"The Dreamers" is no shock despite its NC-17 rating.
If you're not shocked to see an anesthetized audience of young people watching Sam Fuller's 1963 "Shock Corridor" during the student revolts of 1968, then you may understand why Bernardo Bertolucci's ("Last Tango in Paris") "The Dreamers" is no shock despite it NC-17 rating.
The students of this film are voyeurs looking for the ultimate experience: playing in a cinematic reality of their own making. Until that moment they mimic old movies like ghosts inhabiting a faded whorehouse: not much going on, not very sexy, not very interesting except for their guessing lines from movies while dropping trash around the house, getting trashed, and getting it on.
Matthew (Michael Pitt), a na?ve American film freak with an annoying resemblance to Leo DiCaprio, meets at the Paris Cin?math?que a brother and sister, darkly sensual Isabelle (Eva Green) and darkly sensual Theo (Louis Garrell), both film buffs who sleep together in the buff. Not surprisingly the three share a case of cinephilia interruptus where the unreal images of Marlene Dietrich in her gorilla dance of "Blonde Venus" lead to a very long scene of autoeroticism in front of her famous "Blue Angel" photo and a kitchen coupling between Matthew and Isabelle overshadowed by Theo loving a frying pan of eggs.
Around this detached self-love swirls the revolution, real action by contrast, reminding me that Benjamin in "The Graduate" (1967) was also out of the activist loop and becoming a slave to sexuality. Like Mike Nichols, this director can edit with the best of them: Nichols has Benjamin imaginatively springing between pool and bed; Bertolucci has his three lovers running through the Louvre while he intercuts three characters from "Bande a parte" (1964) doing exactly that.
Yet it's not all the director's expert cutting or the characters' pretentious imitating. When Isabelle and Matt do some heavy kissing in a theatre, "The Girl Can't help It" is playing on the screen--Bertolucci has a sense of humor.
When mom and dad return to find the three asleep in the same bed, the illusion is essentially over. However the multiple cuts to Mao-related kitsch throughout "The Dreamers" point out another revolution besides the sexual to which our characters can commit. Edith Piaf singing "Non, Je ne regrette rien" lets us know there will be no regrets. Listening to Matt and Theo argue the merits of Chaplin over Keaton, I regret there is too little of this wit and too much dreaming. As the bard said, "He is a dreamer. Let us leave him."