DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of The Dreamers, My Super 8 Season, My Brother Is an Only Child, In Praise of Love, Notre Musique , Alphaville, Last Tango in Paris, The Conformist, 1900

 

Title:  The Dreamers

Release Date:  2004

Nationality and Language: France, Italy: French, English

Running time: 115 Min

MPAA Rating:  NC-17

Distributor and Production Company:  Fox Searchlight

Director; Writer: Bernardo Bertolucci, based on novel The Holy Innocents by Gilbert Adair (1988)

Producer:

Cast:   Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel

Technical: HDCAM

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Review:

 

In 1968 an American Exchange student Matthew (Michael Pitt, who rather resembles Leonardo Di Caprio) gets taken in by Isabelle and Theo (Eva Green and a very juvenile looking Louis Garrel), fraternal twins looking for someone to initiate, when there celebrated father (an author) goes away from their Paris apartment. Outside left-wing protests against French labor policy are mounting. Matthew is a film buff, and the film often breaks its narrative by showing parallel passages in various mostly black-and-white films, one with a demonstration of CinemaScope. In time, this movie becomes a “coming of age” story with interplay between the movies they watch and their lives in this old apartment with its rich “geography.” Pitt’s wholesome performance (although he smokes) makes Matthew an effective protagonist, like the young adults on a number of dramatic TV shows today. Matthew seems to simply want to generalize or enlarge his “moral world” by experiencing things as a young man, before he makes up his mind about a lot of things. At the beginning of the film, he is an effective narrator, as he talks about film buffs and real life.

 

 The story will flip like “a dream” between outside politics, the characters intimate experiments, and old films, as if they were all parallel worlds. In the mean time, Matthew finds that his own (as well as Isabelle’s) sexual initiation (after a physical one sprinting under the time clock through the Loeuvre) turns out to be quite a tribunal itself. He gets undressed in dirty dancing fashion, all right (so that he can deflower her  -- as he is chased through the apartment by Theo he manages to change his shirt from a polo to a fully buttoned one before getting “captured” and held in place from behind by Theo while Isabelle encroaches from the bottom – quite curious), but draws the line at a most critical point, where, at least, he is taunted (as “proof of love”) with possible humiliation starting with the application of shaving cream to a private area. He is not interested in something that invokes a male flip of Boxing Helena. (No Lorena Bobbit here, please.) He lectures the twins that they need to grow up and start to leave their fantasy world for real lives.  There is the constant sexual tension between Matthew and Theo also (although Theo says Matt is not his “type” just before his sister is to be deflowered), as in a bathtub scene that reminds me of The Talented Mr. Ripley. But their male bonding turns to political discourse about revolution, war, violence, about who is expendable for politicians. (Matthew says he is not in Vietnam because he is non-violent, but then comes up with the idea of conscripted cannon fodder. Bertolucci claims that Pitt ad-libed this idea. The twins also talk about filmmaking as “voyeuristic,” as if one could film one’s parents intimacies – a possible unstated assumption that a parental marriage bond, to be active and permanent and committed, presumes that their kids will carry on their biological legacy.  Theo is interested in the bookish idea of revolution than doing it. Or is he? This is a bit like Michael Moore here, but, I think, more complete and objective. Again, it also brings back Last Tango in Paris. This is the first film to get an official MPAA NC-17 in six years (remember James Spader in Crash?), and it makes a great case that NC-17 should not be a stigma. But at one time (when Midnight Cowboy came out in 1968), neither was X.

 

The commentary of the DVD indicates that Matthew is gay in the book but not in the film (although Theo comes across as rather gay); but what is more important is that the brother and sister look at themselves as “Freaks” as in the well known 30s horror film, and Matthew finds himself drawn into their world and threatened with becoming one himself (as in the humiliation scene).

 

The DVD contains a 50 minute “short” “Bertolucci films ‘The Dreamers.’

 

(Ann Beeson of the ACLU made a reference to this film in her oral arguments before the Supreme Court on 3/2/2004 in the challenge to COPA, the Child Online Protection Act of 1998.)

 

A “ones complement” to the Bertolucci film is a My Super 8 Season (“Ma Saison Super 8,” 2005, Du Contraire / Anitprod, dir. Alessandro Avellis, France, 71 min, sug NC-17) traces the “left wing” in France starting with the 1968 protests above, all the way into the 1970s, as a docudrama involving several characters. There is Marc (Axel Philippon) jump starting a gay rights movement while his platonic female friend Julie (Celia Pelastre) pushes worker’s rights. Marc angers his father, a cop, involved in a bust with a factory worker Andre, who claims to be straight but becomes attracted to Marc. Though the relationships roughly parallel those of the Bertolucci film, the pace is much faster and, even with the explicit nude scenes, the movie loses the tension that the Bertolucci film developed with this subject matter. In the film’s middle, there are interesting ideological discussions about how gays fit in to the people’s and women’s movements; there are some objections to gays even on the left, and odd discussions about the idea that male homosexuality fan reinforce stereotypes about “virility.” In fact, as the years progress, Marc appears more “mature” physically, although there is a problem that the characters tend to look and act too much alike, a problem within far left movements. The title of the film refers to Andre’s habit of shooting Super 8 videos (with 70s technology) of sex scenes, that look even too grainy for “Deep Throat.” 

 

My Brother Is an Only Child (“Mio fratello e figlio unico”, 2007, ThinkFilm / Vertigo / Warner Independent Pictures / Cattelya, dir. Daniele Luchetti, novel by Antonio Pennacchi, Italy, 108 min, R) traces two brothers in opposite protest movements (Communist and Fascist) in 60s and 70s Italy. In trying to be funny it loses focus. Blogger discussion.  

 

The Bertolucci film makes a interesting view of a young man entering “life” with “experiences,” but we can make an interesting comparison to the philosophical film In Praise of Love (2001 – “Eloge de l‘amour” dir. Jean-Luc Godard, New Yorker Films, Manhattan Pictures and Studio Canal, PG, 98 min) which is supposed to present a ponderous example of French “New Wave” film. Structurally, this is a “film in two parts,” the first in a garish black-and-white, with wonderful precision as it creates its abstract Parisian world, and then equally garish color video for a long epilogue that happens two years earlier. All of which brings us to the “plot” or story. That’s hard to pin down. There is an artist trying to cast his film, a composer with a cantata to sell, and American media businessmen more interest in French resistance fighters in World War II. (Actually, the artist is trying to develop a project about three couples in different ages; one of the women dies, and her story, which itself involved another film, two years earlier will make the second half.) These elements come together like a dream. But it actually strikes close to home. The artist apparently has a few authored books, one of which has managed to sell just three hundred copies. Another one seems to be full of blank pages. And the artist has somewhat separated himself from the organic experience of living. And this gets to the point of the substance of the film, especially the black-and-white part, as a series of a lot of philosophical, existential discussions (I expected to hear H.G. Well’s “Meanwhile” and stoics and epicureans come up—a 12th grade book report for me, but that never quite came up. Or maybe Sartre’s “Nausea.”) There is the woman talking about what happens when someone grows older, and outgrows her earlier connection to everyday experience, and this gets elaborated into talk about childhood, adulthood, old age. Then there is the whole issue of realism: one line is “Most people have the guts to live their life but not to imagine it.” There is talk of parallels: history being overrun by technology, and politics by gospel. Americans have no real history, so they resort to cheesy capitalism. Hollywood suppresses the truth in order to fill auditoriums, and Hollywood is the evil empire. Here, then, the film must meander into left-wing politicos that would almost fit Michael Moore, but they are much quieter. Many of the shots are almost like touristy postcards but with an alley-like underbelly, as when the artist talks to a girl who might fit the film and tells her that he lives alone, he is just with his art. There is no motion at all in that scene, just a David Lynch-like shot of a factory on a river. Or the scenes with action are very understated, as when the artists goes into a homeless shelter and looks for an extra.  Godard has stitched together a series of impressions to create a retrospective, winsome experience rather than to really tell a story. My own material (DADT) lends itself to this approach, and my own 36-minute concept video is rather like this. And in 2001, I had just sold about three hundred copies.

 

Notre Musique (“Our Music”) (2004, Wellspring, 79 min, sug PG-13) is Godard’s must recent New Wave film. His concept is draped over snippets of classical music, from which we reconstruct our own lifetime experience of our world. But the world is divided into three parts: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. The first and last make a brief prelude and epilogue of the film—Hell consisting of shots of war and Holocaust, and Heaven being in the woods, by the water, with healthy looking young adults milling around. In between is the hour long Purgatory—Sarajevo, shown in garish HD video (though only in 4:3 aspect ratio), with the ruins of war and the gradual revival of a city. The very first image is telling: a tram, on a winter landscape, with the opening of the Sibelius Second Symphony playing. The characters talk about war and morality, questions like whether superiority in poetry gives you the right to conquer, then the whole question of Palestine, and displacement of native Americans, who populate the scenes. There is a Jewish freedom fighter, Olga, who is ready to commit suicide (life exists, death does not). Well, she makes it to heaven. But the discussion gradually filters down to what our own personal moral responsibility is on a broader world stage. The Sarajevo section of the movie is really quite fascinating and reminds me of passages of Bazhe’s autobiography Damages, which I wonder if Godard read before making the movie.

 

Alphaville (“une etrange aventure de Lemmy Caution”,1965,Janus/Criterion, dir. Jean Luc-Godard, 99 min, PG-13) is on one level a film noir like “Sin City,” black and white and abstract. A private detective “drives” to a fascist planet and its capital city Alphaville. A computer Alpha 60 monitors all of the citizens, reading their minds, and forcing them into social conformity, suppressing all creativity. There is a suggestion that the computers started out as an advancement (like today’s broadband Internet) and went awry and became a tool of social conformity (like employers reading Myspace profiles!) The detective (Eddie Constantine) finds himself becoming more like “them” just before they die from darkness, yet he will “drive home” when he finds love (Anna Karina). There is mention of the “Outlands” – an interesting idea that I experiment with in my treatment document called “Prescience” – but it seems that Outlands here is just home. Some of the technology looks dated (mainframe tape drives) but that only makes the Orwellian satire more telling. 

 

Last Tango in Paris (“ultimo tango a Parigi”, 1972, MGM/Criterion, dir. Bernado Bertolucci, 136 min, NC-17) was a famous “X” art film with Marlon Brando as Paul, a businessman, who begins an anonymous affair in a hotel with Jeanne (Maria Schneider). This is to be a relationship based only on sex for its own sake, and that idea was becoming legitimate, however experimentally, in its day. Tom (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is the documentary filmmaker.

 

The Conformist (“Il Conformista”, 1970, Paramount, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci, 115 min, R) is a famous exploration of the paradoxes of political ideology, especially Italian fascism in the 1930s. Jeab Louis Tringtignant plays Marcello Clerici, a troubled man who has become vulnerable to coercion as he goes to work for Mussolini in 1938. He has experimented with homosexuality, as he confesses to a moralizing priest, when as a teenager he may have killed an older “metrosexual” who had paraded as a woman, but he seems tantalized by it. Bertolucci explains this as a critical event: the pedophile tantalizes him, and he reacts by shooting the pedophile, and then seeks to cover his own homosexual urges by becoming the perfect Fascist conformist--indeed an assassin himself--and hunting down other non-confromists, including his teacher. His conformity seems to as much dating a woman and having children for the State as in carrying out a plot to help assassinate for former renegade professor (Enzo Tarascio) who has apparently resisted fascism as his world falls apart. He travels with Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) through a Europe of Bertolucci colors and angles. There is a climactic scene in the woods at the border (where there is a monologue about "extermination" of all non-conformists, such as homosexuals and Jews), and later Marcello will accuse another homosexual (apparently the pedophile who tried to abuse him in childhood -- but that guy was supposed to be shot and dead, but was he dead?) of carrying out the assassination. The script explores the relationship between the individual and the state, and suggests the idea that homosexuals, while on the list of enemies like “Jews,” might find appeal in the ideal of aesthetic personal perfection that fascism seems to teach. At the end, the assassin is indeed called both "a homosexual" and "a Fascist" in immediate sequence. Nevertheless, Mussolini, remember, preached pro-natalism and taxes bachelors. The movie ends in 1943 when Mussolini is being removed by the king.

 

1900 (“Novocento”, 1976, Paramount, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci, 315 min / 245 min, R) is a famous epic about two men from 1900 to 1945, son of a peasant and of a landowner (Gerard Depardieu and Robert De Niro) as Italy goes through Fascism and must resist communism. The famous opening starts with Verdi’s death. Compare to “Sunshine.”   

Related reviews: Inside Deep Throat     La Dolce Vita    Freaks  Sunshine

 

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