1968 was the year when adrenalin was running. Being far out and groovy meant more than smoking dope with a girl from Sarah Lawrence, or listening to Jim Morrison in a candlelit bedsit, totally naked. On the streets of Paris, riot squads moved against students with batons and tear gas. The government wet its pants and youthful enthusiasm was seen as a Communist threat.

It was heady times, feeling the power at a young age, finding a voice, living on the edge, to the full, independent of parental conformity. Someone should make a movie about it, because Bernardo Bertolucci, who would have been 28 when this was going on, prefers an Antonioni-style study of intellectual games playing, with sex, instead.

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Matthew (Michael Pitt) is a gauche American student, who can't speak French properly and still writes home to mom. He goes to the movies all the time, because that's what you do when you don't know anyone, and discovers an elite society of film snobs, that argues the finer points of Nicholas Ray's oeuvre, or questions the genius of Keaton against the sentimentality of Chaplin.

When the student revolution, or whatever you want to call it, hits him where it hurts and the authorities close his favourite cinema, he finds himself in the thick of it, without really taking part, which is where he meets the daring and beautiful Isabelle (Eva Green) and her ironically cynical twin brother Theo (Louis Garrel), whose dark good looks has a strange fascination.

They appear to be the living proof of bohemian chic for a shy, well-mannered boy from San Diego. Matthew is overwhelmed, particularly when they invite him to stay in their parents' ginormous apartment, stuffed with books and artistic detritus - their father is an academic poet, whose most famous lines are, "A poem is a petition/A petition is a poem."

The film is a record of sexual initiation. The twins sleep together, innocently. Isabelle, believe it or not, is a virgin, who seduces Matthew - not difficult, since he wanders about with his eyes on stalks, being polite and a little scared.

Instead of a political statement, or recreation of an extraordinary moment in the history of civil rights, The Dreamers stays indoors and becomes irrelevant. Does anyone care about rich kids fooling around in an emotional hothouse, with nothing better to do than play with each other?

Matthew is humourless; Isabelle has 21st century breasts; Theo practises putdowns, because love is for the birds. Despite full frontals, this is less erotic than scooping shelled shrimps out of aspic with your tongue.

Deep down, or even straight up, these kids are not as interesting as they like to think. Of course, Matthew was never interesting, but the others might have been influenced by Pasolini's Theorem, which came out the same year, except they missed it, spending too much time playing "Name the film, or pay the forfeit," with Janis Joplin on the turntable and a bottle of papa's vintage claret, stolent from the cellar, uncorked and waiting to be wasted.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2004
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Exploration of love set against a backdrop of the 1968 student riots in Paris.
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Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Writer: Gilbert Adair, based on the novel by Gilbert Adair

Starring: Michael Pitt, Louis Garrel, Eva Green, Robin Renucci, Anna Chancellor

Year: 2003

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/France/Italy


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