Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Dreamers

An important scene about love
The Dreamers is a strange film about revolutions, both sexual and political, and one could say it is a bildungsroman, though in a very non-traditional sense. It follows the story of a teenage American boy who has recently moved to Paris who is attempting to fit in amongst some fellow cinephiles and ends up moving in with a brother in a sister, who have an incestuous relationship, this is incredibly awkward until he directly addresses it, then has a passionate love with the sister, though becomes embroiled in something much bigger than himself, the revolution talked about throughout the entire film, both metaphorically and literally. It is set in 1968, which really is the perfect time for the piece, and it is very much a period piece.

First a historical note. The film is set during the beginnings of one of the biggest protests ever. Over 11 million french people were on protest at one point, almost one quarter of the country. These riots involved peaceful demonstrations but quite quickly evolved into direct violence, and almost a sort of anarchy. It ended the contemporary government's reign, so it was effective in that sense, and also prefixed a lot of social changes that were so prevalent during the 60's. The most important for this film was the sexual revolution, as an era of freedom and expression began, and created the culture that is so relevant today.

The film begins with a fairly catchy tune, evocative of much of the soundtrack. The soundtrack is actually concurrent with the era, so it is all 1968 or before, which creates a very unique feel to the film, which is further evoked by the cars and technology of the era. The opening credits are set to a background image of the Eiffel Tower, which is inherently a symbol of change. We're then introduced to our protagonist and narrator, who is fairly likable even if I don't remember his name. He walks to a cinema built in a metaphorical palace, which looks like a truly magical place, fairy-tale like, which is what the film tries to evoke through much of the second and third acts.

Not my style, but still damn pretty
So at this he meets the initially domineering and dangerous Isabel in a beret, like Che Guevara, and then we see her in chains protesting the shutting down of the cinema. It is there that she invites him home, and we begin the journey down the rabbit hole, but we don't really see how deep it goes until the parents leave. But the film is not strictly about revolution against the parents, merely how without parents/authorities revolution is inevitable. When Isabel contemplates suicide at the end because her parents have found out about her relationship with her brother we realize how powerful this parental relationship can be, and what it can do to people to have their parents realize who they truly are, again a metaphor for government. The film is also about film.

When I say that I mean it is a tribute to an era of film-making, and music, and philosophy. It knows the time better than many pieces from the same time. In a way it can be compared to Tarantino's films, in that he knows the period he is referencing, and with his encyclopedic knowledge of films it shows. The difference here is Tarantino's references are implicit, and the Dreamers are explicit. The Dreamers shows the films it is referencing, names them, shows how the characters know them, and though more appreciation is gained for having watched the films a casual viewer, not that there really are any with this film, still can understand them. Tarantino's are more take it or leave it, if you get it good, if you don't well it's brief and unimportant. Different style of film-making, neither implicitly better or worse.

When I say it's a tribute to the philosophy of the time I mean it's about the revolutionaries that became so popular in the 60's, due in part to the Vietnam war and disillusionment and also because of the media which influenced people so. Films like Psycho that sought to break the social norms, and acknowledge the madness that lies outside, and others like To Kill a Mockingbird showing the racial injustices prevalent at the time and how god damn ubiquitous they were. These films revolted in small ways, and the riots in Paris at the time were simply a microcosm of what was happening around the world. The film shows this perfectly through its explicit imagery, through its dream-like state and the refusal to acknowledge the outside world, the issues of appearance versus reality and all that jazz.

No penises here
Now to talk about why the film got an NC-17 rating. It has full frontal nudity, like a lot. If you're offended by that, well this is not the film for you. It also has explicit masturbation by a male, incest in everything but the most technical sense, and several sex scenes, including one which is about five minutes long. There are a number of reasons for this, notably with sexual revolution as a predominant theme it had to include some nudity, because otherwise the point would be neutered, it helps to define the characters more than without it, and it's just the director's way. Just as Tarantino uses excessive violence, Bertolucci uses excessive sex. Both uses of the word excessive here are simply compared to the norm, and they really are not excessive to me, but simply to the censors.

The director, Betolucci, clearly loves the subject matter, and it is evident in all the choices made about the film. The philosophy in the film, evidenced by several different characters in different ways seems like it was someone's personal philosophy, about how every element of the universe works together to form a wholly together whole. A nice optimistic idea in a sense. Interestingly the film ends on quite a sorrow note, or even no note at all given how open the ending is. The brother and sister go off together, ignoring the protagonist's cry to break apart and to live their own lives. The film actually ends on a small fire burning, with police vans in the back after all the riot cops have run forward to intercept the virtual army of protestors.
On the whole I'm not sure if it is a comedy or a tragedy, using the classical terms. The ending is not wholly ambiguous, but leaves enough up to question, about the fates of the main characters as well as that of Paris as a whole. It is a lot like reality in that way, but only really the ending and beginning are. The rest of the film is so unreal, that it is less realistic than the likes of Star Wars, or for something more grounded in reality Donnie Darko. Films which thrive on their fictitious nature are more real than a film rooted so firmly in reality in terms of setting, but is so far apart in terms of characters and style. As I said, I don't know what to think, I'd say give it a watch if you're fine with explicit sex scenes, but be ready for something very unique, an entity unto itself.

I'm actually not sure if I'm done with this one, I feel like there is more to say on that theme of appearance versus reality, so stay tuned for a second part, maybe.

To add some class

No comments:

Post a Comment