Monday, August 13, 2012

The Dreamers (2003) - Splendid, if a bit Off-Beat

Eva Green's First Role Makes Her a Star

The Dreamers Eva Green
"The Dreamers" (2003).

"The Dreamers" (2003), directed by cinema legend Bernardo Bertolucci, was Eva Green's true breakthrough role. It led directly to her James Bond film with Daniel Craig, "Casino Royale" (2006), but her role as young rebel Isabelle (no last names) in "The Dreamers" is by far her best performance. One could say that Eva got the plum "Casino Royale" James Bond film gig because she showed herself in "The Dreamers" to be utterly fearless and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Few would question her determination, as Eva goes all the way ... and beyond ... for her art here. Well, to be fair, she was chosen for the Bond film due to her being fearless and the fact that Eva is stunningly beautiful and a terrific actress. She certainly brings to mind young Liv Tyler in Bertolucci's classic "Stealing Beauty," but Eva goes way beyond anything that Liv did in that earlier film.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva conveys everything with her enigmatic smile in "The Dreamers."

Eva Green continues to get great roles, and in 2014 she dazzled again in "300: Rise of an Empire." Few roles, of course, will get someone as much exposure as that of a Bond girl, but Eva has managed it again. From a sophisticated Parisian family, Eva purposefully hasn't sought out many blockbusters for quick paydays as others might have done. When she is in one, though, she is the person who creates the buzz.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva Green is put into dozens of provocative poses in "The Dreamers."

Eva also has chosen quirky projects along the way that, no doubt, interest her own artistic impulses and not necessarily those of the masses. Plus, she has had the luxury of learning her craft in a slightly lower-profile setting, while still cranking out the occasional blockbuster as they come along. We should all be so lucky as to have those kinds of options in life.

The Dreamers Eva Green
This turns into a very sexy scene in "The Dreamers."

Set in a 1968 Paris that is beset by student radicals and garbage strikes, "The Dreamers" is about growing up in all of its many different forms. Rather than just becoming a standard US "coming of age" film where the cute boy fighter learns how to fight from his wise Sensi or something like that, "The Dreamers" heads right where it counts in the real world: sex and politics. It is aimed at a sophisticated audience, and most definitely is not intended for everyone.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva Green at her sultry best in "The Dreamers."

Make no mistake, "The Dreamers" is an art-house film with a decidedly French sensibility in almost every sense of that term. You get lots of sex, lots of nudity, lots of philosophizing, some nods to French radicals of the past, mordant wit. Along the way, we learn that everyone, no matter how assured, has to grow up, everyone is vulnerable, even the teachers are just yearning to be taught. One of Bertolucci's aims was to pay homage to films and student leaders of the 1960s, so there are delightful homages throughout that you will only get if you either lived through those times or are a student of 1960s French culture.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Everybody gets along famously in "The Dreamers," but there are underlying tensions. Note how the mirrors reveal who is really looking at whom in their minds. Now that's good film-making.

There is so much nudity, in fact, that Eva Green reportedly was embarrassed to screen the film for her parents. Don't worry, it is all tastefully done, though this is not a film suitable for children. Don't leave it on when your grandparents drop by unannounced. "The Dreamers" is the antithesis of mass-market films such as "Battleship" and "Transformers," meaning it has soul and stretches the limits.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva Green has a lot to look at in "The Dreamers.'

Either you enjoy films like this or you don't. There is no point to torturing yourself by watching "The Dreamers" if your favorite movie stars Jennifer Aniston or involves toys that talk. It is not "family friendly."

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva Green has marvelous feet in "The Dreamers."

Who are the "dreamers" of the title, and what are they dreaming about? You can only fully appreciate this gem if you figure out the answers to questions like that on your own, but doing so isn't easy. Your answer may be different than mine, but thinking that thorny question through is half the fun.

The Dreamers Eva Green
They get down to it eventually, and may I say, not in a shy way in "The Dreamers."

The most direct answer is that the dreamers are simply the three main characters, played by Louis Garrel, Michael Pitt and obviously the absolutely splendid Eva Green. They engage in various kinky sex games in 1968 Paris until ultimately being rudely interrupted by real-world events. But then, don't forget the former student radicals of the 1960s that Bertolucci rounded up to make cameos early in the film. See, it's not quite so obvious as you thought.

The Dreamers Eva Green
They are very free-spirited, but there is more to this scene than a simple jaunt in "The Dreamers."

The characters are metaphors, representing certain points of view in the world of the counter-culture 1960s. The film is designed to make you ponder what has changed since the 1960s and what has remained the same. We see a little of both in "The Dreamers."

The Dreamers Eva Green
"Bande à Part" (1964) is the French film with the original museum scene which Bernardo Bertolucci recreates in "The Dreamers."

The plot is simple and almost incidental: a brother and sister idle away their lives in incestuous, self-indulgent pleasure, while a visiting, classically American tourist is kind of baffled by the whole thing. But is he the only naive character, or is he even the most naive?

The Dreamers Eva Green
Fortunately, they have a big tub in "The Dreamers." Rub-a-dub-dub, three in a tub!

The three are all are whiling away their lives to no purpose, though this is set during only one month of the summer of '68. For example, the otherwise mature-beyond-her-years, tough-talking sister played by Green hasn't ever been on a real date. While full of profundity and cleverness, she lives her life as isolated loner in the midst of crowds of people.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva affects a funny French accent which, of course, she is perfectly equipped to do because she herself is French and lived in Paris. But it still sounds funny the way she does it.

This isolation is taken all the way to its limits in a sad scene. After the characters are forced out of their stupor, though, they finally seize the chance to take action. They now finally have "grown up." Who does what at that point sets up the glorious but extremely subtle and perhaps confusing climax.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva Green is a very pretty, but isolated, character in "The Dreamers."

One can read a blunt incest angle into the film, but the brother and sister never are shown having sex with each other. The nudity and sexual situations take it as far as you can go in that direction without actually crossing the line, though some would say they actually do go where they shouldn't. But Bertolucci is quite careful not to give his film's potential enemies any more ammunition than he has to.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva Green giving That Look in "The Dreamers."

So, it is left a bit murky, no doubt intentionally, and also to avoid unnecessary confusion with the film's larger message. But there's absolutely no murkiness about all the sex that's involved. Eva Green spends most of the film in various states of undress.

The Dreamers Bernardo Bertolucci
Director Bernardo Bertolucci, the master, at work on "The Dreamers."

I don't know what director Bernardo Bertolucci's politics are, and it doesn't really matter when viewing his works. Works of art stand on their own. A classic example of a film getting away from its creators' political intentions was "Patton (1970)," a glorious homage to a US General whose liberal creators never meant it to be sympathetic to him. Bertolucci almost certainly is most interested in filming his wistful memories of his long-lost youth, and anything beyond that is incidental.

The Dreamers Eva Green
I'm sure that Louis kind of wished he wasn't playing the brother in "The Dreamers."

I believe the film does speak loudly about the politics of the time. You have to decide what that means for yourself, but it ultimately is profitless. The only thing that matters is Eva Green's radiant beauty and the internal politics and resolution of a lover's triangle.

The Dreamers Eva Green
When they confront one another in "The Dreamers," there are no barriers.

What the characters ultimately learn is that growing up involves responsibility,a and they must break free of their aloof isolation. The world is about more than them, it is about ideas and change and progress. Once they realize the futility of their self-centered direction, they become part of the world and attempt to make their mark upon it. Everyone must grow up and leave home at last, and that is what "The Dreamers" is all about.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva Green just exudes sex even when she isn't trying in "The Dreamers."

The juxtaposition of images of French student leaders from archive 1968 film with similar images filmed by Bertolucci in 2003 is perhaps the film's most powerful statement, but it also forms a question: did they change the world? You be the judge.

The Dreamers Eva Green
On the barricades in "The Dreamers."

The Vietnam War (begun, remember, by the French, so they always felt some responsibility for it even after the Americans took over) dragged on and social injustice continued, but the world did evolve. What was the only immediate result of their agitations? Mountains of uncollected trash in Paris from a sanitation workers strike. Reality trumps philosophy while living our lives, and there is a profound lesson in that which the film attacks from several different angles.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva smokes throughout "The Dreamers."

There also is a larger net cast here. "The Dreamers" passes judgment on an entire generation of people who fought the good fight, joining a lost cause as knowingly as did Rhett Butler in "Gone With the Wind." It is right to honor them, but none of them appears blinded to the fact that it was just part of the times and the world has moved on.

The Dreamers Eva Green
A lot of affection is shown in "The Dreamers."

One of the central conceits of the film, which has the characters acting out parts from old films, gives the main clue to the where this film is aiming. Whether protesting or not, people at the time were watching helplessly as larger world events unfolded - as if watching a film.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Whilst in the bathtub with your brother is certainly the proper time for deep thoughts in "The Dreamers."

Even when they tried to intervene, their ability to alter the Great Clock (as Tolstoy would say) was limited. The armed riot police would see to that. But still, this was the movie of their own lives, and they had to play their parts. To do otherwise, to simply sit and watch, could not be avoided except at the cost of their very souls.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Eva holds that cigaret in quite the sexy fashion in "The Dreamers."

The three main characters serve a fundamental purpose. They show how people of good conscience, despite their own depravities and self-contradictions, could stay self-absorbed and degenerate only for so long before becoming supremely disgusted with themselves, leading to complete dissolution. Only when becoming actively engaged in events larger than themselves - here, by throwing a Molotov cocktail and storming the barricades - do they become alive and fulfilled.

The Dreamers Eva Green
Yes, let's see the cigaret bit in "The Dreamers" from another angle.

Events were too important for even these withdrawn types to ignore. As the American character played by Micheal Pitt aptly puts it, "You must not believe what you say about revolution, because you don't do anything about it." That is the key: you only dream unless you act. In "The Dreamers," at last, the thought becomes action and the dreamers do believe, even if their action only leads to insurmountable counter-reaction. At least they tried. The dreamers become believers.

The Dreamers Eva Green
There is a lot of nudity in "The Dreamers," so be forewarned.

Eva Green is a great actress with a flair for giving a naturalistic performance, but you may at times feel that she is posing as "the wild girl" just a bit too much. It is like a little girl playing grown-up and putting on her mother's clothes and shoes. They don't quite fit, but she manages to stumble around quite convincingly. Eva is a big girl, but this is a very big role, and she struggles to pull off the whole "I'm bad" vibe in convincing fashion. She does what she can with a role that may have hit very close to home with all its French historical references. Her stunning beauty and cocksure attitude carries her through the film, but Bertolucci was aiming very high, almost trying to make an existential point, and very few actresses could pull that of completely. Eva Green comes about as close as possible.

The Dreamers Eva Green Michael Pitt Louis Garrel
The black gloves at breakfast, it's got to be a French thing in "The Dreamers."

I must caution that there is lots of nudity of both genders and simulated sex, so this is a film strictly for mature viewers. It is thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating. It also captures the look and feel of 1960s Paris and the mores and controversies of the time. If any of that interests you, or you simply want to see Eva Green at her dazzling finest, I heartily recommend "The Dreamers."

Below is the trailer for Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers." Below that is a comparison of a scene in "The Dreamers" with the original French film from which it was copied as an homage. It's astonishing how similar the scene are, Bertolucci and his staff must have spent a lot of time to get it just right.

The Dreamers 2003 original film poster
"The Dreamers."


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