"...Do you like orchids?"
"Not particularly," I said.
The General half-closed his eyes. "They are nasty things. their flesh is too much like the flesh of men. And their perfume has the rotten sweetness of a prostitute."--The Big Sleep
The Dreamers, Bertolucci's latest, is a fetid, fetish hothouse of a film, a towering necropolis, and watching it is like watching someone fuck a corpse for two hours.
It's a beautiful corpse, don't get me wrong. Bertolucci is still one of the most amazing image-makers working in the medium, and I share his love of the films embraced by the Cinematheque Français in 1968. But the stale perfume of the crypt clings to this movie and its three nubile leads until it is almost as visible in the frame as the omnipresent cigarette smoke. The persistence of vision remains even when all I wanted to do was shut my eyes. Bertolucci teases us with glimpses of great films, his own and others, then he forces us to look at someone's stained bedsheets and insists it's art. It isn't even pastiche.
[I should have realized I was in trouble during the title credits. They were beautiful, a gorgeous descent through the girders of the Eiffel Tower shot from so close up as to approach a pure abstraction of steel and sunlight. Only later did I realize that it was nothing more than the elevator to the hell of Deconstructing Harry.]
Of the four patrons at this matinee screening on a gloriously sunny afternoon [itself a perverse decision, I know], the cinetrix was the only woman, and there was more than one moment when the masturbatory excesses on the screen made her distinctly uncomfortable, solely because such juvenile solipsism was being extolled as virtuous and beautiful, rather than dangerously naval-gazing posturing. The relationship between incestuous twins Theo and Isabelle and the gormless American, Matthew, was a textbook illustration of Between Men. A bloodless retread of Teorema, only this time everyone fucks the Visitor and no one is transformed at the end. Cruel Intentions had more courage in its convictions.
The cinetrix is tired of old men. Tired of nouvelle vague tyros extending their own cinema du papa into the 21st century. Tired of sitting through their arguments for their continued validity and influence; their unwillingness to relinquish their place to the young; their inability to hide their contempt and their cynicism. Is there anything more pathetic than someone once acclaimed as the sine qua non of realistic eroticism trying to gird himself again in the sensationalism of notoriety? Remember when I mattered? When I still had the power to shock? No wonder the French love Woody Allen still. Dirty old men one and all.
By no means will the cinetrix ever be mistaken for a patient woman on the best of days, but the overwhelming sensation this film filled me with was impatience--with youth and with the old men that fetishize and celebrate it. Any delight I could have experienced playing "Name that movie" whenever Bertolucci quoted from the hit parade of the Cahiers crowd was poisoned by how he callously turned them all out to make him some money.
I'd rather watch Fred Astaire tap on the ceiling over Ginger's bed on my shitty, 17-year-old, recorded from cable VHS cassette for the rest of my days than endure again a gorgeous projected image of the same sequence if it's going to be sullied by the sucking and fucking by proxy seminal fluids of a filmmaker who goes through the motions but can no longer get it up.