Paris 1968 is the setting for Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, a ménage-à-trois drama that's watchable but doesn't live up to its Italian director's towering reputation. While on the streets there's unrest brewing, behind closed doors American student Matthew (Michael Pitt) and French siblings Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green) are playing games that move from cinema-love to sex. Handsome but self-absorbed, the movie is notable less for its insights than its nods to film classics and full-frontal nudity.
By mainstream standards, the central trio's carnal capers are fairly bold. But Bertolucci doesn't recapture the raw impact of his 1972 masterwork Last Tango In Paris. What causes more of a fluster than the sexual shenanigans is that we're with these characters all the time, but find it hard to get close to them. Pitt's Matthew starts to irritate as soon as he calls round to his new Gallic pals' family apartment for dinner, ignoring father Robin Renucci's conversation for some whimsical nonsense involving a cigarette lighter.
Though Garrel and Green are more likeable as the other corners of the triangle, we don't delve deep enough into their strange relationship and spoilt lives. (Thanks to mum and dad's affluence, they're rebels without a care.) The threesome - and the film - engage most when revelling in their cinemania. Clips and tributes enrich the action, with everyone from Jean-Luc Godard to Greta Garbo joining the parade.
Bertolucci and screenwriter Gilbert Adair (adapting from his own novel) have said that their movie is more about the personal than the political, and it's only at the end that history gives the dreamers a wake-up call. While the closing conflagration slots into the story with impeccable neatness, there's little weight thrown behind it. As exquisitely crafted as any Bertolucci film, this is never a yawn. But if you're expecting something as provocative as it is pretty, dream on.