Paris when it Sizzles

I’m not sure why I held back on immediately seeing Bertolucci’s THE DREAMERS when it was new, but I know I got a bad report of it from my friend and yours David Melville Wingrove, which may have put me off. David adores the book, The Holy Innocents, and felt the film betrayed it completely. Since writing the novel, Gilbert Adair had taken an odd turn, and agreed to adapt it to the screen only if he could make certain changes. Then Bertolucci seems to have developed cold feet about the gay content and pruned that right back.

I’m not sure if those changes constitute a total betrayal of the book, but they don’t help it. The wad of VO at the beginning is anti-cinematic in the extreme. I love narration but this one is pure info-dump and things improve immeasurably when it goes away. The ending is a return to the plodding and literal as our hero makes a speech against violence to his chums during the ’68 riots. In reality, Adair was right in there throwing rocks at les gendarmes. I don’t disagree with the anti-violence stance, but it doesn’t work as an ending: it doesn’t relate to the film before it. And it utterly lacks the poetry Bertolucci once brought to his endings — the time twists of THE SPIDER’S STRATAGEM, 1900 and THE LAST EMPEROR, for instance, could have worked wonderfully here, since it’s a film that’s about THEN but wants to be relevant to NOW. In particular, the end of THE SHELTERING SKY, bringing in the author to quote from his work, might have worked better here than it did there.

If this had been an original work, I supposed we’d have been impressed by the sexual daring, but although it’s pretty explicit, it’s inescapably a conservative, heterosexual dilution of the source.

I liked the actors — Michael Pitt is saddled with the worst material but he’s good in the role and Eva Green is a delight with her facial expressions going all over the place — nobody’s told her you’re not supposed to do that in the film and the result is she’s lively the way film actors usually aren’t — Louis Garrel is very cool. The parents had too much screen time and I wished the kids’ arguments could be smarter. Chaplin vs. Keaton and Clapton vs. Hendrix — I guess a lot of sixties cultural arguments WERE like that, but here’s a case where rose-tinted glasses could have made the film more intellectually stimulating…


18 Responses to “Paris when it Sizzles”

  1. Movie studios use voice over in their movies when they’re really desperate. Good example is Blade Runner. In one version Harrison Ford narrated the movie which really fucked it up

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Bernardo was Bi and terribly ambivalent about his “strange twilight urges” (as they were called back in the day) Originally Brando was supposed to have mounted a teenage boy in “Last Tango.” But Bernardo chickened out and cast Maria Schneider — a lesbian whose “boyishness” he imagined would suffice. A shame as Brando was Bi and quite forthrightly so (Wally Cox was the love of his life) As for Gilbert he was wildly gay until a mid-life crisis, brought on by the fact that he found he was no longer able to attract the guys he desired — coupled with a fag-hag who had been picking her teeth in the wings making her move on him. This led Gilbert to declare he was straight. Yeah right. So it was HE who betrayed his own novel with the screenplay for Bernardo’s movie. A shame as Louis Garrel had done it with dudes on screen before and would have been delightful with “Tommy Gnosis”

    Can’t stand Eva Green.

  3. mikeclelland Says:

    First, I love all of Bertolucci’s movies. And in THE DREAMERS they go to see THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, so there is well deserved extra love for this one.

    Mike C!

  4. The only version of Blade Runner for years was the VO one. It didn’t exactly ruin it but what it didn’t do was what the studio wanted: clarify the narrative. Strange as it seems, a lot of people found the movie hard to follow. When it aired on TV in the UK, newspapers took the trouble to warn viewers that they’d better watch it from the beginning otherwise it would be confusing.

    I’m not sure if there are any cases of VO actually clarifying things. Lady from Shanghai’s crazy house sequence is probably the defining example of Vo failing to sort things out.

    Bergman said Last Tango was interesting but the only way it would make sense was if you imagined it as being about a man and a boy. Bert responded that he welcomed all interpretations but this one had never occurred to him!

    I enjoyed all the movie references, and would have welcomed more: a serious cinephile Myra Breckinridge could be quite nice.

    Some VOs should be noted as exemplary: Sunset Blvd, Goodfellas, Jules et Jim. But they work best when they’re part of the original conception, not a desperate last-minute addition.

  5. mikeclelland Says:

    As far as movie references within movies… Oh how I wish that Bertalucci had directed FOREST GUMP.

    Alas, it was not to be.


  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “Life is like a box of maron glacee”

    Ludivigne Saignee would have been ever so much better than Eva Green

  7. chris schneider Says:

    My favorite example of a film with VO narration will always be DOUBLE INDEMNITY. I find nothing wrong with the device. It gives a film fatalism and an air of subjectivity and/or self-hypnosis.

  8. Actually, now that I think about it a lot of film noir uses voiceover. That’s not because the movie is so lame it needs help. It’s because the voiceover adds to the sense of doom

  9. There was always a plan that Blade Runner might have a VO, because it seemed to fit the genre. But I’m not sure who eventually wrote it. The two credited screenwriters were a bit embarrassed when they met at the premiere because each assumed the other must have done it, but it was neither.

    Billy Wilder always said that you should only use VO for things you couldn’t do any other way. “I didn’t know then that murder can smell like honeysuckle” can not be put on film except as narration.

  10. David Ehrenstein Says:

    My favorite example of a film with V.O. narration is “India Song”

  11. its been a long time since i’ve seen it, but isn’t there a joke about voice over in the long goodbye, where elliot gould is talking to himself as if it were a vo.

  12. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Scorsese who uses VO in most of his films said multiple times that he uses a VO to structure his movies allowing him to move as many different directions he wishes and cover a wider swathe of detail. Which makes sense given the epic scope (in the Brechtian sense) that he covers and how he eschews the three-act structure. His VO is also quite unreliable…a good example is The Irishman where Frank Sheeran often trails off, and slurs when narrating especially near the end (which gives an effect of a guy who’s grown tired of telling his story).

    The Dreamers though doesn’t need that, because Bertolucci in The Dreamers isn’t telling a story of that size. A few years later, Garrel made Les Amants reguliers with Louis Garrel again, and that made this film superfluous. Likewise, Olivier Assayas’ Apres mai (or “Something in the Air”) which is set in the early 70s also evokes this era better. But Garrel did say a few times that his film about 68 got made thanks to The Dreamers, so in that respect it served a purpose in opening up a mainstream place to talk about ’68 and allowing better films to make use of the opportunities it made. Bertolucci said in interviews that a lot of his political imagination and ideas got frozen by the turn to neoliberalism in the 80s and the collapse of the USSR, and with that, I think he, to quote Turner from Cammell’s Performance, he lost his daemon. So in his later films he kind of dissipated. The Dreamers is his penultimate film, and the one after this “Me and You” is actually better but it’s also too minor, and The Dreamers is just inert and dry.

  13. I think Bertolucci also put some hope in China and then that was dashed.

    I can’t remember if there’s a VO joke in Long Goodbye but Gould’s Marlowe does talk to himself a lot…

  14. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    When the revolution fails as a viable alternative, the usual artistic response is to turn inward and away from politics. That happened with Romanticism after the failure of the French Revolution and the downfall of Napoleon. Bertolucci’s inward turn is manifest in The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha (which is actually cool as a children’s film and fun to watch). But that inward turn didn’t entirely take for a man who used to live in expectation or anticipation of revolution, “before the revolution” as the title of his first movie put it.

  15. And ironically he stopped his therapy at the time of The Last Emperor, so the inward exploration maybe was shut off, too.

  16. David Wingrove Says:

    ‘Paris When It Sizzles’?

    I call this movie ‘Paris When It Snores.’ That’s what I was doing, anyway.

  17. But if you chuck a petrol bomb at it, it’ll still spark fitfully…

  18. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Here’s Marlowe muttering in “The Long Goodbye”, half to himself and half to his cat

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