Seen and Heard

Seen at the Movies:

It’s a pleasure to see Bernardo Bertolucci returning to erotic subject matter, but The Dreamers is no Last Tango in Paris. Rated NC-17 for its unabashed, close-up approach to sex and nudity, the film is lushly photographed (by Fabio Cianchetti) in the inimitable Bertolucci manner, and it features three pretty young actors for our voyeuristic perusal. It’s also a cinephile’s delight, as the director liberally pops in clips of everything from Blonde Venus to Band of Outsiders to illustrate the characters’ obsessions. But all of this is not enough to make The Dreamers a good movie.

The film is set in Paris in spring 1968, as protests that began over Henri Langlois’ firing from the Cinémathèque Française erupted into full-scale student rioting. Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American abroad, meets inseparable siblings Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrell) during one of his long sojourns at the Cinémathèque, and, fascinated by his new French friends’ seemingly uninhibited exoticism, finds himself moving into their sprawling flat just as les parents leave for an extended stay in the country. Inside this apartment, which has been beautifully designed by Jean Rabasse to express both a decaying Old World elegance and a weird dislocation—the viewer can never get a handle on the floor plan, and even Matthew can’t find the toilet--the three kids create their own exclusive society. They act out scenes from their favorite movies, argue about the virtues and defects of Chaplin and Mao, and embark on a series of sex games that seem alternately innocent and creepy.

The Dreamers. Photo: Fox Searchlight Films

Aside from the timeless pervasiveness of sex, Bertolucci zeroes in on twin preoccupations of late 60s youth: cinema and politics. Yet the director of The Conformist and 1900 gives short shrift to the latter, as if political engagement were something to be looked upon ruefully as a folly of the young. Part of the point of The Dreamers is that for all of their fancy talk about the revolution, Matthew, Isabelle, and Theo are oblivious to the activity going on outside the window, but the film seems more or less uninterested in it too. One longs for Bertolucci to burst outside and indulge in some of his trademark sweeping camera moves, but he mostly opts for the claustrophobic atmosphere behind Isabelle and Theo’s heavy curtains. Part of the problem is that Green and Garrell are simply not interesting enough actors to sell the siblings’ supposedly irresistible allure, and one grows tired of the characters’ infantile self-absorption. The sensuous-lipped Pitt, on the other hand, is the perfect embodiment of American openness and naiveté, and he looks great in costume designer Louise Stjernsward’s slim-legged trousers and buttoned-up collars.

Welcome to Mooseport boasts a very good cast struggling mostly in vain with a tired premise and listless filmmaking. Gene Hackman is the former president who takes up residence in Mooseport, Maine (actually Ontario), only to find himself running for town mayor against local handyman Ray Romano. The race for office also devolves into a rivalry over town vet Maura Tierney, much to the consternation of presidential aide Marcia Gay Harden. Such estimable performers as Christine Baranski and Rip Torn show up and get a couple of laughs, but director Donald Petrie, who has also brought us Grumpy Old Men, Miss Congeniality, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days stretches the movie out way too long and never gives it the boost of energy it needs. Welcome to Mooseport also suffers from a TV sitcom visual blandness; Victor Hammer’s cinematography is evenly lit and dull, David Chapman’s production design fails to anchor proceedings in a sense of place, while costume designer Vicki Graef amuses herself by unearthing as more shades of plaid flannel for Romano and the other townspeople than were previously known to man.

Welcome To Mooseport. Photo: Kerry Hayes/Twentieth Century Fox

The Norwegian film Kitchen Stories, on the other hand, conveys a very strong feeling for its setting, a snowy rural town in the 1950s where scientists from the Swedish Research Institute arrive to study the kitchen habits of farmers, thereby to come up with efficient design standards. It’s an odd subject for a movie, and it’s a fairly odd movie, too, directed by Bent Hamer with a decidedly droll touch; the dominant image in the film is of a buttoned-up observer, stationed at a high perch in the corner of the kitchen, studying an old tousled farmer at his meals. Gradually and inevitably, the two begin to talk, and to share food and drink. Hamer’s film is amiable, yet it never quite caught fire for me, and I found the look off-putting: for some reason, DP Philip Ogaard casts the whole movie in a greenish pall that seems better suited for something more Bergmanesque. Production designer Billy Johansson does an excellent job with the period appointments (the scientists camp out in funny egg-shaped trailers) and with the farmhouses, which are of course more oblivious of period.

Kitchen Stories Photo: IFC Films

Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin is an engrossing documentary by Richard Schickel that’s about as comprehensive as any two-hour film could be at surveying the artist’s long life and career. It takes us from the early Sennett years through the two-reelers and features, through unprecedented fame and scandals both personal and political, through exile and eventual rediscovery. It’s not a new story, but it’s a great one, and Schickel is very generous with the clips, only giving short shrift to Chaplin’s later failures, A King in New York and A Countess from Hong Kong, while making one want to seek out such rarely exhibited titles as A Woman of Paris and The Circus. Talking heads include Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Andrew Sarris, Johnny Depp, and Chaplin offspring Sydney, Michael, and Geraldine. In addition to its theatrical engagement, Charlie will run, along with many of Chaplin’s films, on Turner Classic Movies through March, although it’s a treat to see those clips on the big screen.--John Calhoun

The Gold Rush

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