Monday, April 26, 2004

The Dreamers. There is an argument to made that pornography is the only truly honest form of cinema. Or, to be precise, all cinema is pornographic, but only pornography has the courage not to turn away at the moment of truth. However transparent their artifice, all pornography ultimately slams up against the reality of conjoining organs, and thus even the most contrived and absurd of scenarios is inevitibly redeemed by the unblinking gaze. Bernardo Bertolucci has always attacked this border between blinking and not blinking. Between the cutaway and the unrelenting visible. His cinema stems from the knowledge that film is the most erotic of all the arts, his camera relentlessly hanging suspended before moments that shatter the line of artifice and the real. The Dreamers is not a great film. But it attacks that line more violently then any mainstream film of recent memory. It testifies to cinema's dangerous power, as it leaves it to us whether or not to blink, or look away. To Bertolucci flesh and cinema are interchangeable, the conjuring of lights as real as the resistant skin. For him, we are all seated in the front row, recieving the moving shadows on the wall. Like the denizens of Plato's cave, cited to such extraordinary effect in a darkened room lit with shafts of translucent sunlight in his young masterpiece The Conformist. That film was set in Paris too. But a Paris younger and deeper then this one. The Dreamers's Paris barely exists. Its children take to the streets while Bertolucci's nymphs gather in Bachannalian entropy between walls, barely cognizent of the world-shaking events outside. Bertolucci has always been more interested in the politics of flesh than the politics of paper and fist. His three actors negotiate themselves by jealousy and need, seeking after the impossibility of conjoining. Like all Bertolucci's films, this also is a tragedy: the tragedy of the human self at war with its other, its second twin. Our essential alienation at mortal battle with our desperate need for communion. To Bertolucci, sex and cinema are tragic, for they both offer transitory, momentary glimpses into an impossible communion. Lovers are joined for an instant, then forever seperate. Movies last only an hour or two, then the lights come up. His French twins were once conjoined, but now they bear only the scars. So they are tortured: they have known the impossibility of absolute oneness. Once, says one of them, we were the same person. Like all Bertolucci's protagonists, they destroy themselves by hurling themselves against the wall that seperates all of us, one from another. Even in the streets, among the mob, there is no solidarity, and we, as the young American does, stand aside: watching. As we are watching in darkened cinemas and caves, lit by flickering shadows on the wall. As Bertolucci's merciless camera is watching. As the world was watching in those days in 1968 he desperately wishes to impart to us, in his own futile search, perhaps, for communion.


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