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Posts Tagged ‘voyeurism’

Bernardo Bertolucci directed The Dreamers, in which Michael Pitt is Matthew, a young American in Paris during the student uprising of 1968. In his hotel room, Matthew demonstrates what a spontaneous guy he is by walking across the bed to get to the bathroom, where he pees in the sink, or at least that’s how it looks. Maybe this is the normal plumbing. Perhaps French urinals are actually elevated far from the floor, and I’m just an unsophisticated hick.

Matthew meets brother-and-sister twins who, like him, are ferocious cinephiles. Theo and Isabelle are both, it goes without saying, beautiful, as well as exquisitely bilingual. They habitually act out scenes from classic films, which are also intercut into this one. Some critics believe this is too artsy-fartsy, but I think it’s swell.

The twins invite Matthew home for dinner with their parents. Favorite scene: During the meal, the guest goes into quite a lovely and original acid-like rap about how things all fit together.

Theo despises his father for not supporting the student activists. But the father says, “Poets don’t sign petitions, they sign poems.” As soon as the parents leave the room, Isabelle turns off the overhead light, and lights candles. She teases Matthew with some Freudian nonsense, saying, “This” (measuring her brother’s nose) “is double the length of this” (measuring Matthew’s nose). Is it innocent silliness, or is she baiting him with a reference to the popular myth that the size of the nose reflects the size of the penis? She kisses Matthew lightly, and something tricky happens with the visual as he pulls her back for another kiss.

This apartment must be enormous. Theo leads Matthew through a maze of rooms and hallways, to a room where he’ll spend the night. Again, he pees in the sink. This time, there’s no doubt, because somebody’s toothbrush takes a hit.

The parents leave on vacation and Matthew stays on. The following weeks are filled with complicated head-trips and sensual exploration, as he falls in love with both of the twins. Theo and Isabelle are very kissy and huggy with each other, and go around the house undressed, and share their bathroom doings, and even sleep together naked. (This film has so many hot spots, there’s bound to be one that does it for you.) Speaking to Matthew of his sister, Theo says, “We’re Siamese twins, joined here,” as he taps his head.

They dare Matthew to duplicate the race through the Louvre from Godard’s Bande à Part. “This is a test,” Isabelle says. Matthew passes, and on the way home they reprise the chant from Freaks, “We accept him, one of us.” Intercut of course with footage from Todd Browning’s classic film.

For losing one of the film challenges, Isabelle orders her brother to masturbate over a picture of Marlene Dietrich, as she has secretly witnessed. “I want you to do it the way you did it when you thought no one was watching,” she says. To Matthew’s stunned astonishment, Theo falls to his knees and obeys his sister.

Theo acts the death scene from Scarface, which the others don’t guess, so as a penalty Isabelle and Matthew have to make love on the kitchen floor. Lots of naked Michael Pitt here, dick and all. Theo pretends nonchalance. He’s at the stove cooking eggs while they go at it. As it turns out, Isabelle was a virgin, and discovering the amazing amount of blood, Matthew smears it over her face and neck. She cries. Then they’re making it somewhere else, she’s calling him “My first love, my great love.”

They run out of food and Theo goes outside wearing only a green jacket with nothing on his bottom half. Apparently there’s a convenient market, just downstairs, for he roots around in some garbage cans. Students are painting slogans on the columns of venerable buildings. Theo and Matthew have an argument over Vietnam, and also over the ethics of filmmaking as voyeurism. One of them says, “Films are crimes and filmmakers are criminals” or something to that effect.

Most unbelievable scene: Communally bathing in a regulation-size tub, somehow they all manage to fall asleep. Of course their political activism has ceased; the three of them are just wrapped up in their exclusive world of weirdness. Matthew points this out to Theo, who displays a glowing statue of Mao in his room, and is supposed to be such a fierce dissenter. Theo’s friends also scold him, for withdrawing into the private domain.

When Matthew fails to answer a film quiz, the twins strip him down, demanding to shave his pubic hair as a penalty. He refuses. Beginning to suspect that the bond between the twins might be a bit sick, he asks Isabelle out on a date without Theo, and they apparently have a great time – at, of course, a movie. But when they get home, Isabelle hears the sounds of her brother in bed with another woman. She cries, attacks Matthew, and generally freaks out.

Later, Isabelle reverts to childhood and erects a makeshift tent, bringing the two men to sleep inside it, with her between them. While Matthew sleeps, she repeatedly begs assurance from her twin brother that their love will last forever.

The parents return to find the place a huge mess. They write another check, and creep away. Question: since the mom leaves the check in a place where, finding it, the young people will surely understand that their triple naked slumber has been observed, why do the parents bother to tiptoe around?

Isabelle wakes up first and knows what her parents saw. So she hooks up a hose to the gas line, and drags it back into the tent, intending, I suppose, to kill all three of them. Question: Why does a 3rd-story Parisian apartment just happen to have a 50-foot garden hose lying around in its kitchen?

Now there’s footage from some classic, where a woman rolls down a hill, wanting to go into the river and drown, but stops at the edge. In the black and white film, this unfortunate creature climbs back up the incline and tries again. A window shatters. Isabelle says, “The street came flying into the room,” which is a great line, but they’re hella far up in the building, for chrissake. The trio goes outside and joins the protesting throng that surges through the streets toward some strategic destination. Even though they are latecomers, they arrive just in time for Theo to pitch the first Molotov cocktail. Matthew begs Isabelle to hang back in relative safety, but she forsakes him and runs off into the violence, hand in hand with her twin.

The police charge, in a horrible cartoon-like endless wave which is really quite apocalyptic. The police and the rioters outside contrast with the self-absorbed little universe the three young people had inhabited. This looks very much like an homage to a scene near the end of In the Realm of the Senses, where rank after rank of marching soldiers emphasize the divide between the real world and the enclosed, obsessive world of the two lovers. The movie ends up with Edith Piaf on the sound track: “Je ne regrette rien” – “No, I regret nothing.”

What else is there to like about The Dreamers? Dylan’s “Queen Jane” is part of the sound track. Isabelle, wearing long black gloves and with a sheet wrapped around her hips, appears against a black background, looking like Venus de Milo – only much slimmer and more toned. She does have the most amazing breasts, and we get to see them plenty, throughout the film. Trivia: Jake Gyllenhaal was originally up for the part of Matthew, but didn’t care for all the nakedness the script called for, so we got Michael Pitt instead.

Related: the “filmmakers as voyeur theme” – see Harrison’s Flowers

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