With eyes already widened by the glow of movie screens, American college student Michael Pitt arrives in 1968 Paris in time to be dazzled, and maybe even blinded, by what he sees. A pointed valentine to film-buffdom, revolutionary politics, the promise of youth, and the terrors of freedom, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci from a script by novelist Gilbert Adair (Love And Death On Long Island), The Dreamers opens with Pitt looking like a pilgrim who's long since found his shrine. From the front row of the Cinémathèque Française, in the company of a "Freemasonry of cinephiles," he watches in awe as one film after another unspools, only occasionally shooting furtive glances at the inseparable brother/sister team of Eva Green and Louis Garrel, to his eyes the epitome of unobtainable Gallic cool. Amid demonstrations over the firing of Cinémathèque director Henri Langlois, Pitt falls in with them, to the soundtrack of François Truffaut's impassioned protests. When Green and Garrel's parents take a trip to the country, he takes up residence in their apartment. In cluttered rooms, they bury themselves in culture, debating the merits of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin while thumbing through André Gide beneath posters celebrating Jean-Luc Godard and Mao while Janis Joplin plays on the stereo. With the entire world in their heads and the Cinémathèque shuttered, it's little wonder they rarely leave. When they do, it's to run through the Louvre in tribute to a scene from Godard's Bande À Parte. Bertolucci responds by intercutting their sprint with scenes from the original, but he's motivated by more than preciousness: Knowing little beyond film, his characters form relationships that echo the films they love–Bande, of course, but also the twisted triangles of Jules And Jim and, in time, Les Enfants Terribles. When Pitt spies Green and Garrel snuggling in the nude, he looks like he knows he should leave, and when Green and Garrel start playing sexual-humiliation games in front of him, that look grows even more intense. But if he's learned anything from watching film, it's the value of not looking away, and the importance of getting drawn into the story. Three decades after Last Tango In Paris, Bertolucci again shows he knows how to put sexual frankness into the service of art. About halfway in, a scene set on a kitchen floor becomes simultaneously perverse, erotic, gross, symbolically loaded, and strangely sweet. (It's probably the reason Dreamers earned an NC-17 rating, but the film would disappear without it.) Even apart from the sexually explicit material, Bertolucci invests each scene with a charge, fetishizing relics of yesterday's Parisian film culture as intensely as the bodies of his skilled young actors. It's filmmaking almost too vital for what's ultimately a nostalgia trip. But, incest and the uniqueness of the '60s aside, The Dreamers is a universal story, one that captures the thrill of discovering culture, sex, and politics, and the painful twinge of learning that those worlds aren't enough.
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