Volume 73, Number 43 | February 25 - March 2, 2004


Koch on Film

‘The Dreamers’ (+)
This is a film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci who directed many movies including “Last Emperor,” “The Conformist,” and “Last Tango in Paris.” His films are always sexually arousing and this one, which includes male and female frontal nudity and some serious coupling, is no exception.

The locale is Paris in 1968 during the time of student marches and violence. Remember those student mobs demanding changes in French society which were supported by general strikes organized by the Communist Party and instead brought back to power General DeGaulle by overwhelming citizen demand? This film does not cover what occurred before or after the riots nor was there any reference to DeGaulle.

The plot involves a young American from San Diego, Matthew (Michael Pitt), who has left college for a year to travel in Europe. In a demonstration on the streets of Paris, he meets two Parisian who are twins: Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel). They invite Michael to their home where we meet their mother (Anna Chancellor) and father (Robin Renucci) who is an academic and author.

The parents leave for a vacation and the three youngsters remain in the apartment. Their activities, including lots of sex and the occasional preparation of food, quickly become decadent, e.g., the three of them bathing together in a tub. Isabelle and her brother Theo appear to have an incestuous relationship, but that issue is left unresolved. When Matthew and Isabelle become intimate, she conspicuously bleeds leaving the question is it due to her loss of virginity or her monthly period.

The movie has a lot going for it, but the dialogue and storyline as executed are not enough to make it a terrific film. I particularly enjoyed the gorgeous voice and songs of Edith Piaf played throughout the movie. She sings, of course, in French, but the nuances of her voice conveyed the meaning of the lyrics for me which fit every scene from lust and passion to marching in the streets, battles between students and the police, and the throwing of Molotov cocktails. Her voice added enormously to the film’s attraction and momentum. “The Dreamers” is a good film, but I wish it had been as terrific as I had anticipated.

‘La Mentale the code’ (+)
This French film is a combination of “The Godfather” movies and the HBO television show “The Sopranos.”

Every minute is on the cusp of or involves a violent act. The gang and their immediate relatives include French Arabs who are Muslims, gypsies, and French men and women who are overwhelmingly Christian. We learn that one Arab gang has a Jewish member when he is seen at a gravesite wearing a yarmulke. Every imaginable killing and reason for killing is played out, including a murder in a meat cooler with the victim hung on a rack. The hustles and double crosses are constant. The affection of the mob members for one another, demonstrated with kissing, is even more demonstrative than that depicted in “The Sopranos” show.

The main characters include Dris (Samuel Le Bihan) and his wife Lise (Marie Guillard) who want to start a family. Dris was recently released from prison and is trying to stay straight. His younger brother wants to be taken in by his brother’s old gang; Nina (Clotilde Courau) loves Dris; and Yanis (Samy Naceri) is Dris’ best friend. There are many more characters and everyone plays their role extremely well. The denouement involves a shootout and exchange of hostages (gang members). I would say the French gangs depicted are probably more brutal than ours.

HG found it “boring.” I did not, but the theater was only about 50 percent full. In his New York Times review, Dave Kehr said “It remains to be seen what the New York art-house audience will make of this bloody, low-brow Euro-programmer, grandly inflated in prestige by the mere fact of being imported.” I disagree. It is good and prepared me for the new season of “The Sopranos” which will begin soon. In French with English subtitles.

- Ed Koch


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