I approached watching Bernardo Bertolucci’s 2004 film The Dreamers with some hesitation. I’d loved the film when I first saw it. Then as time passed, I started thinking that it was maybe too specialized and that it had appealed to me more because it so reminded me of my film-geek youth than from any intrinsic merit. That thought almost caused me to leave it off my 10 best list that year, until someone considerably younger urged me to see it again, saying it wasn’t just relevant to a single time period or generation. He was right, as it turned out. Watching it again recently reinforced both views. It most certainly will have greater resonance for you if you came of age as a movie fanatic in the late 1960s-early 1970s. (And if you did, I only hope that you will have the same feeling as I do about the choice of the song on the soundtrack when the credits start at the end.) However, I suspect that anyone who grew up living vicariously through movies—or really any art form—will find something to relate to.
The film follows an American student/film buff, Matthew (Michael Pitt), who is living in Paris in 1968. Matthew takes up with the privileged children, Isabelle and Theo (Eva Green and Louis Garrel), of French intellectuals (Anna Chancelor and Robin Renucci).
The Dreamers presents a microcosmic view of the insular world of the film fan. Everything Matthew, Isabelle and Theo say, think, or do is related to the movies. It started with Matthew going to Henri Langlois’ Cinémathèque to see Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963), but it really takes hold when the government fires Langlois and shuts down the Cinémathèque. It’s during the ensuing riots (yes, riots over the fate of movies) that Matthew meets the seemingly sophisticated Isabelle and Theo (sophistication learned from movies). Soon, he is living with the pair while the siblings’ parents are away in what turns into a kind of menage à trois situation—one complicated by both the incestuous nature of his friends’ unconsummated relationship and the homosexual undercurrents of his relationship with Theo. (Make no mistake, the sexuality in the film is very frank and earns its NC-17 rating.)
In many ways, the film charts Matthew’s awakening to actual human interaction and how this doesn’t—and yet does—relate to movies. What the barely perceived awakening leads to—and how it impacts his very isolated friends—is another matter. As rich and deep a film about coming-of-age and the movies as you’re likely to find. Bonus points if you get the references to Mamoulian’s Queen Christina (1933), Sternberg’s Blonde Venus (1932), Sandrich’s Top Hat (1935) and Hawks’ Scarface (1932) right off the bat.