The Dreamers (2003) Reviewed by Khalishchafiq
1968 has come to be seen as the year Parisian college students revolted. The beginning of the revolution was brought about by the onset of war in Vietnam. College students from a different culture and a different race took to the streets to show their feelings in anti-war, anti-racism and anti-gender-discrimination demonstrations. The situation escalated into near-revolution as protests spread from college students to labor groups totalling in excess of 10 million people from all over the country. The government was threatened by protesters and eventually dissolved, though the riots quickly broke up and the revolutionary groups remained peaceful.

Both situations above are portrayed in the film, The Dreamers (2003) directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, Italian Film Director. This film consists of three major elements; sex, politics and film. So, The Dreamers is like a time machine taking you back to of that moment in the past. 

Thai teenagers having sex “the wrong way” has been a hot item in the news recently. I cannot stop laughing at these adults who believe they can control at what age, time and place their teenagers should have sex. Then they tell us that learning by ourselves is the worst thing! Do you really believe that teenagers will listen and obey their parents? It’s so strange how adults fail to understand teenagers, despite having been a teenager once themselves.

So, I was wondering why growing up in the sixties and seventies hasn’t made them into open-minded adults with free-spirited attitudes and visions. I wish I had grown up at that time, when we were learning the world and the world was learning itself.
The teenagers that called themselves “Hippies” (บุปผาชน) back then were anti-establishment liberals, they were at their height at the time of the Vietnam War, with political ideology as their choice way of thinking, they had Woodstock, rock music, books, movies and drugs. This tell us there is nothing different nowadays compared to the past at that moment.

Matthew, a 20-year-old provincial from San Diego who arrives in late-60’s Paris is the main character of this movie who spent most of his time at the cinema where people only went to see classic and independent films. He often sees Isabelle and Theo around Paris, twin boy and girl, and finds them very attractive. It all looks pretty cool seen through Matthews’ eyes, including sitting in front of the screen smoking cigarettes. Matthew becomes more interested in the twins than he is in movies. When the cinema is forced to close and Henri Langlois laid off by the cinema’s founder, people begin protesting. This situation provides Matthew with a chance to chat with Isabelle who seems fascinated by Matthew’s innocence. Isabelle asks Matthew to take a cigarette out of her lips and says to him...

“ You’re awfully clean for someone who goes to the cinema so much.”

When the cops come to disperse the protests, the three leave together to walk and talk. That night Isabelle and Theo walk through the rain to take Matthew to his small flat. The next morning Theo calls Matthew to invite him for dinner at his house. So here begins the scene that defines Matthew’s personality. At dinner while the twin’s parents were talking Matthew plays with his lighter on the table, bored, until the twin’s dad asks Matthew why he is paying so much attention to his lighter, he tells their dad that he is bored and he found out that the lighter fits the grid pattern of the tablecloth, no matter where he puts the lighter and on whatever side, it always fits. He thinks about synchronization of the universe and is inspired by his tablecloth discovery. Whether what Matthew said was truly on his mind or whether he just wanted to survive the situation we don’t know, but the twin’s dad was thoroughly impressed which emphasises the conflict between Theo and his dad. In a conversation before dinner ends the twin’s parents say they have to travel in the early morning and invite Matthew to stay over. Late night, Matthew went to the toilet and he accidentally sees Isabelle and Theo laying naked together on their bed.

Next morning, Theo and Isabelle invite Matthew to move out of his flat to stay at their place. This is going to be like heaven to them because they can talk about movies all the time; in one scene Matthew and Theo were argue who is better, Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin and in a later scene Isabelle and Theo dare Matthew to run through the Louvre to break the speed record like in the Band of Outsiders film. One day, Isabelle invites Theo and Matthew to play movie title guessing game but Theo couldn’t answer so she tells Theo to masturbate in front of her and Matthew as a forfeit. When it comes to Theo’s turn to ask questions, Matthew and Isabelle can’t answer. As a forfeit Theo tells Matthew to have sex with Isabelle who is his twin sister. It is the first time Isabelle has had sex. The relationship between Isabelle and Matthew grows rapidly.

Matthew gets angry when Theo and Isabelle ask him to do things he doesn’t want to do. He decides to take this opportunity to make them stop playing mind games and asks Isabelle go on a date like other couples do to make her grow up because Matthew wants the twins to become emotionally independent from each other. When Matthew and Isabelle get home from dating, Matthew pleads with Isabelle that they go to her, so far unseen, bedroom. Eventually Isabelle decides to let Matthew into her bedroom, she has never, ever let anybody else in there but she allows Matthew in and lets him explore her room. Theo has also been out dating and has a girl in his bedroom which drives Isabelle hysterical and she starts ranting. She chases Matthew out of her bedroom and Matthew realises that Isabelle is unable to aba,ndon her relationship with her brother Theo.
Next day, Isabelle makes a makeshift tent in the living room. She invites Theo and Matthew to stay in there and next morning, their parents arrive home unexpectedly and are shocked to see their kids and Matthew naked together in the tent. They leave a cheque and quietly move on. Isabelle wakes up and sees the cheque which her dad left for them. She is surprised and confused. Before, Matthew had asked her what would her do if her parents know about her special relationship with Theo and she said she would kill herself. Isabelle goes to the kitchen and gets a rubber hose and connects it to the kitchen gas and feeds gas into the tent. At that moment the window in the living room is smashed by protesters outside on the street. So, this is like an alarm clock to wake them up to reality and the three go out of the house to join the protest. Theo grabs a bottle bomb to throw at the cops but Matthew argues with him to not do it, but Theo is overwhelmed by hatred, he won’t listen to Matthew also Isabelle runs into the crowd leaving Matthew behind between the protesters and the cops.

Matthew decides to leave the protest, although he admires Theo and Isabelle he has different ideals and the twins and he choose to go their own ways. The ending scene make us realise the standpoints of each character which is different. After spending time together for a while, the director makes them walk in opposite directions and this becomes a sad farewell without goodbyes.

The revolution in Paris concluded with the protesters losing but, on the other hand, French Society develops really fast while Thailand overcame the protesters in October 14th, similar to the French situation but it resulted in Thailand stop and fall behind like the situation didn’t achieve anything.

Film is a good media to show social conditions of any country. France allows people think differently and people have the right to say what they want about sex and politics. That’s why we can see this film has been made bravely, different from Thai society which is still afraid of change.

The Dreamers emphasised to me the very low ceiling of liberation in Thailand where the state intercepts many things that people strongly believe in, contrary to morality and that ceiling is too low which makes us bend too low for comfort.

all men are created equal