This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Arthouse cinema has a bad name amongst most ‘normal’ filmgoers. French cinema has a bad name amongst ‘normal’ filmgoers. While The Dreamers hails from the huge Fox Searchlights conglomerate, making it neither arthouse nor French, it shares exactly the qualities that gave the two a bad name in the first place and might do more to denigrate public perception of world cinema than anything in the last decade.
A potted summary run thus; a young, poorly housetrained American student Matthew (Michael Pitt) moves to France for a year in the late sixties; caught up in the fringes of a cultural revolution but more caught up in his own sexual revolution as he flatshares with Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green). This brother and sister pair share an obsessive love of cinema, and rather more disturbingly a bed. Matthew is inserted into this incestuous little love triangle which in an ideal world would be fraught with drama and sexual tension. Alas, this world is far from ideal and this film is similarly far from ideal. Pretty much diametrically opposite, truth be told.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the arthouse cinema. Throw in a deliberately controversial theme, fannying around it making sure to not come close to saying anything worthwhile about it, make sure there’s a few scenes where dangly bits are suitably exposed and reference previous films so that the audience can sit around congratulating themselves on having seen them and gosh, aren’t we just so clever? Halfbake at Gas Mark 4 for ninety minutes and serve with a polo neck and an inflated sense of self-importance. For pudding, why not congratulate yourself for making something so important, so challenging, so provocative?
The only challenging thing about this dangleberry is getting through it without walking out, falling asleep or being irritated to the point of a blinding, murderous rage. See, a few of the things not mentioned in the above recipe for disaster are having a plot that can’t be recapped on the back of a postage stamp, having characters that are vaguely sympathetic, having any sort of fun associated with it at all. While these seem to be minor details to a certain crowd who want to show how fucking broadminded they are by seeking such ‘daring’ bullshit as this , it’s the only important consideration that a film can truly have. No-one will care enough to think about the underlying themes or messages if it’s a tepid, lifeless piece of flesh, and The Dreamers is well past its consume-by date.
The casual observer will soon tire of Louis Garrel’s staring into the middle distance as some sort of substitute for depth of character. They will quickly grow irritated by, well, every single characteristic that Michael Pitt displays. While the money shot might come from the impressive chesticular area of Eva Green, her actual acting is coquettishly appalling.
While their combined efforts are that of a shower of misery, saying that they have little to work with would be like calling the sun lukewarm. Depth of character cannot be conjured from thin air, yet that is what is attempted here, as though Bernardo Bertolucci were some inspired alchemist rather than director. He isn’t, although we’d still perhaps expect more from him than he delivers. The camera is generally pointed in the correct direction, and is generally in focus. Every other point you can envisage is negative.
Chief irritant perpetrated on us by Bertolucci is his continual cutting to footage of older films starring greater talents, ostensibly to reflect what our young cinephiles are pointlessly acting out in yet another of their juvenile games, but really just reminding a stultified audience firstly that other films exist and secondly that with a very few exceptions they’re better than the veritable banquet of putrescence.
I assume my contempt for this artsy, pretentious, turgid, pointless, boring, joyless, vapid, self-aggrandising entertainment vacuum is suitably obvious. I’ve not been so insulted by a movie since the Full Frontal debacle. We are not amused, and that’s rather the problem.