Set during the 1968 Paris student riots, Bernardo Bertolucci's latest film pitches Matthew (Michael Pitt) – a young American student – into a relationship with Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel) who, we are led to believe, are brother and sister. Their first encounter includes an invite to dinner, leading to an extended stay at the family home where a meeting of fertile minds takes place. This trio of bright young things share a love of cinema which reflects Bertolucci's own passion, forging a link with the chaos taking place outside: demonstrations against the firing of Henri Langlois as head of the Cinematheque. Thus, we are treated to footage from Queen Christina; clips from Jean-Luc Godard's Bande a Part which mixes prime Anna Karina clips with the trio's own record breaking dash round the Louvre, and there's a white-hot debate between Matthew and Theo on the mightier of two great talents – Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin: witness for the defence? THAT wonderful scene from City Lights (case proven, Matt).
As the three cineastes grow ever closer, the mind/body split of this new friendship slowly wears away, with Matthew trapped by the second of two forfeits; the first sees Theo coming over 'The Blue Angel', while the follow-up involves Matthew fucking Isabelle while her brother makes an omlette in the background. At one point in the film, the 'parents' arrive to find Matt, Isabelle and Theo asleep in the same bed. It's a slightly surreal moment, and one can be excused for wondering whether Theo and Isabelle really are brother and sister or perhaps just lovers, with only one of them being the offspring of the stunned couple who survey the scene from the bedroom door. Perhaps Isabelle and her partner are just playing a game with their latest conquest or maybe they are shooting their own film to be replayed by memory in years to come? Far more disturbing is the possibility they really are siblings, and their parents are only shocked to discover their children have included an outsider to an incestuous double-act that has been common family knowledge for years. Certainly, either scenario would fit in with the mood and theme which combine to make this an absorbing account of a moment in history.
Bertolucci's film seems perfectly in tune with those times, depicting anarchy and rage in the streets below, and control in the claustrophobic confines of the steamy interior settings. Or, perhaps it's the other way around? Whatever, The Dreamers is beautifully shot, highlighting three engaging lead performances, set to an ear-candy soundtrack.
Thematically, this is only a block away from Cronenberg's Dead Ringers for what it tells us about relationships with outsiders who are closer in spirit than first appears. On just a single viewing, one may get the impression that Bertolucci has shaved 25 years off his career, revisiting the sexual shenanigans of Last Tango in Paris with a keen, sharp eye for current affairs and sexual mores.
Ultimately, this a heartfelt tribute to cinema. A love letter to the dear departed, and to those who join them in making us think. Feel. Live. The path we are asked to follow here may not be to everyone's taste – being set in a world between two worlds with no easy answers – but it's hard not to care about the characters: particularly when we contemplate a stark freeze-frame while Edith Piaff calls time out with her most memorable number.