The Dreamers (review)

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Penis Penis Penis

Hide the children! Bring in the dog! Lock the doors! No, it’s not Janet Jackson’s nipple, it’s penises. More than one of them. And breasts and pubic hair. And teenagers having sex. And masturbating. And smoking! And drinking. And engaging in acts of civil disobedience.

But it’s okay, because the MPAA has rated The Dreamers NC-17, meaning no one under the age of 17 can see this film, unless they can sneak in the theater or borrow the DVD (in a few months) from their brother’s sock drawer. Which is good, cuz everyone knows that no teenagers have ever seen penises, breast, vaginas, or cigarettes, and no teenagers have ever had sex or masturbated. It’s best that we keep these things in the realm of liberal fantasy, where they belong.
The really ironic thing is that with The Dreamers, it’s probably only teenagers, the very people forbidden from seeing it, who will find its lounging-in-Paris, pretending-to-be-intellectual, cigarette-smoking, having-sexual-adventures coming-of-age in the least bit interesting. Oh, I’m not saying Plop the 8th-graders down in front of this one, but come on: Who else but Sartre-reading, Fellini-watching wannabe-sophisticated 15-year-olds will find this film intriguing?

See, twins Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), who’ve been left alone by their parents in their rambling Paris flat for a month, invite American student Matthew (Michael Pitt: Murder by Numbers, Finding Forrester) to move out of his grotty hotel and come stay with them. And then they all play pseudo-intellectual games about classic films and sexual teasing, which is bizarre, admittedly, because Theo and Isabelle are waaaaay closer than a brother and a sister should be: sleeping naked together is about the least of it. Which may be more why this film deserves an NC-17 than the penises (none of which are actually erect, and if you’ve seen one flaccid penis, you’ve pretty much seen them all, haven’t you?).

Screenwriter Gilbert Adair and director Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor) have captured a moment in time, I suppose, the late 60s in Paris, when everyone was free and happy and confused and protesting this and that and so on, and doesn’t Michael Pitt look just like Leonardo Dicaprio in Catch Me If You Can in his skinny pants and floppy hair and running around the cobblestone streets of Paris in the rain? Maybe I’m just jealous to have missed such a world, but The Dreamers left me cold, and a tad bored. Except when I was wondering whether Adair and Bertolucci decided to be “shocking” merely for effect, as a game of their own. There’s no real passion in the film — except, perhaps, in the three teens’ passion for film and music, about which they argue with an ardent melodrama, Keaton versus Chaplin, Clapton versus Hendrix, blah blah blah — and all the exhibitionism and the sexual taunting and the fingering and the jerking off and on and on just feels like so many pointless but deliberate acts of provocation. How far could they go before audiences just say Enough already with the “controversy” and tell us a story? Theirs isn’t a mature exploration of sexuality — it isn’t even a juvenile one. It’s just a hollow one.

I ain’t no prude, to anticipate what I imagine will be the typical counterargument to my case here. I’ve just gotten beyond the age at which I find sex in and of itself shocking or controversial. Those French siblings are weird, that’s for sure, but they’re just playing doctor. And while they may find that fun and exciting, I sure don’t.

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