THE DREAMERS - Q&A with director Bernardo Bertolucci
This is a very intimate film for you, in terms of the characters involved. Can you tell me how you first came across the idea?
I read Gilbert Adair's book a few years ago, maybe eight or nine years ago, and I liked it very much. It was during a time when I was wondering about doing a third act of 1900. The second act ends in 1945, and I wanted it to go on until the end of the century. And then I thought of doing a movie about '68. But then I thought, 'Let's be real. What was behind 1900? There was a big political hope... and there isn't any more.' So I gave up, but then '68 came back to me after reading Gilbert's book. I mean, there's not so much [in his novel] about the events of '68 - the riots and the violence - it's more about the spirit of the moment. I guess you could say it's a banal thing to say, but one of the great, real, true banalities in reality is that young people have incredible hopes. They are looking at the future like somebody who can dream in epic terms, in a grand, Utopian way. But youth is not allowed to have those kinds of dreams and to have so much hope - for what? To get more money than their parents? So to go back to the movie, there are these three kids who meet when Henri Langlois is fired from the Cinematheque. They're all film buffs - "dur et pur", as they say - and cinema is the thing that puts them together. Because their parents are going away to the countryside for a while, the French brother and sister invite their American friend to stay with them and they get involved in kind of an 'enfants terribles' relationship...
What does Paris mean to you? Is Paris a place that is close to you?
First of all, I'm a film buff. I was completely in love with the Nouvelle Vague when I was 19, 20, and Paris was the mythical, legendary place when the Nouvelle Vague was conceiving its movies. I love French cinema. Maybe it's the fact that I come from Parma, which was under the French for a long time. In Parma they have the 'aaah' sound in their language, like the French, and they use French words... It's some kind of DNA. So I love French cinema, and when I came to do THE CONFORMIST , which was shot part in Rome and part in Paris, I was thinking a lot about the French cinema of the '30s: Carné, Renoir and Vigo. I remember a few years ago when every magazine in the world was celebrating 100 years of cinema. It was in 1997 and they were all doing lists, and in general my number one was THE RULES OF THE GAME.
When did you first come to Paris and what did you encounter when you got here?
I came here after I did my A levels when I was 18. My parents gave me some money, I came with my cousin, who was the same age, and I discovered a place called La Cinematheque Française, which I'd read about. There was this movie called A BOUT DE SOUFFLE, which had just come out, and it changed the destiny of cinema, in a way, and the history of cinema. When I made my second film, BEFORE THE REVOLUTION, in 1962, and it went to Cannes, the Italian critics in general refused to acknowledge it, but 'Cahiers Du Cinema' and many French magazines were wonderful to me. They kind of adopted it.
Where did you live in the '60s?
In the '60s I was very much in Rome and Paris, then London. I stopped living in Paris after LAST TANGO IN PARIS, which is where I met Claire [Peploe], my wife. Then there was a moment in the '80s where I really couldn't see myself doing a movie in Italy because... I don't know... you could smell the corruption somehow. There was this very cynical attitude that I didn't like, and then the corruption exploded later.
I understand that you did a lot of research into the documentation of the time. How much of THE DREAMERS is your Paris?
I'm not doing a truly historical film, in the sense that I want the spirit of '68 but I'm not looking for a reconstruction. I think that stopped me for a while from being committed to - and engaged with - this film. I didn't want to have extras wearing police uniforms pretending to beat extras wearing students' clothes. I'm so much about the present. But I understood that the film was also about three kids of today - Michael Pitt, Eva Green and Louis Garrel - confronting three kids of '68. And they know nothing of '68. The whole of youth knows nothing about '68. It's like there's been a big censorship of that spirit. I think it's completely mad because even if it was a failure of revolutionary dreams, '68 was incredibly important for the change it made in people's behaviour. Everything changed. In Italy, people were fined for kissing in the streets! And these modern kids who are taking for granted their so-called freedom don't know that a lot of that was conquered in '68. So it's interesting to see how those kids are facing those times. Even if it's not said, it's between the lines. It's an emotion that will come out on screen.
'68 is remarkable not just for the political situation but also for the romanticism of the time. Is that something that affected you?
The romanticism was overwhelming, and also it wasn't something you should be embarrassed about, or something that could make you feel awkward. I can see it in my movies, if I look back at the movies of the '60s and the beginning of the '70s. Let's take LAST TANGO IN PARIS. It's a very romantic film and I understood that later, but at the time it was a scandal. Myself, Marlon and the producer of the film, we were all sentenced to three months in prison - suspended, thank God! It was almost ridiculous, and also I could feel a little bit of martyr! About a year later, I discovered that, during the elections, I couldn't get my voting certificate and when I went to ask for it - it was a Kafka-esque situation, because there was this old man there with a big book - I was told, 'Of course you can't vote. You lost all your civil rights for five years.' I said, 'Why?' he said, 'because you were convicted for obscenity charges.' That was really bad. I couldn't really swallow that. It was around '75, when politics was still important and not being able to vote was like being deprived of my commitment. It was a metaphor.
Is THE DREAMERS your first time shoot in Paris since LAST TANGO IN PARIS?
How does it feel to be back?
Nice. The city seems very much the same, and it is kind of spacing me out a bit because there is this pact with the past. Last Tango was a very strong experience for me. It was such a well-known case, that movie, that for a moment, one or two years, I lost my sense of reality a bit. But it was different then, I was young and things really were difficult. The same thing happened to some friends of mine, like Francis Ford Coppola. I remember meeting Francis before he left to go to the Philippines to do APOCALYPSE NOW. We had dinner in New York, he was leaving the next day, and as he left he told me, "APOCALYPSE will be one minute longer than 1900." We were playing, like kids.
How long was 1900 when it played in Cannes?
It was five hours and 20 minutes. I cut it afterwards. Then it was five hours and ten minutes.
Are you still toying with another part of 1900?
Politics, which was something that would really fulfil generations of people like myself, is now - and it's a very bad sign - has become kind of pathetic. There is an incredible feeling of impotence now, when talking about politics. Because cinema has to suck from the reality, suck the soul from the present and what's around the camera, I don't think it would be a great idea. It would be just an incredible effort and I can't afford that, I don't think.
You've said that your cast didn't know too much about '68. Did you encourage them to find out or did you prefer them not to do too much research?
I like them to know certain things. I showed them newsreel things from the period. But I don't want to teach them too much. I want them to discover it by themselves and also through the story, which was written by somebody who lived in Paris in '68, someone who had a love of cinema. So they have to touch the hob, so to speak. Their hands may get burned, maybe, but...!
Is it possible to think of Paris without thinking of the Nouvelle Vague?
Nouvelle Vague, but also before that. Yet Nouvelle Vague still exists. It's something that is not just past, and something that remains important for cinema. I mean there is the cinema before and after the Nouvelle Vague.
But Paris is such an iconic city. It's so evocative of À BOUT DE SOUFFLE...
There is a line where one of the kids says, "Where were you born?" The other one says, "On the Champs Elysees." And then you see Jean Seberg, saying, "New York Herald Tribune!" Like a kind of song! I asked Godard to use two seconds from BANDE A PART and a couple of seconds from A BOUT DE SOUFFLE, and he said, "You can do what you want. There are no rights of the auteur, only duties."
Tarantino once said that he'd talked to you about his enthusiasm for Godard's films - and that you'd told him how exciting they'd been for you at the time. But it seems that most young audiences today are very conservative in their taste and don't want that kind of radicalism in their films...
I am very, very sorry for the young generation of today because they are not allowed many things, including memory. It's fantastic that they know how to swim in the present, like fantastic fish with great grace, but they are missing the past. It's a great pity. I don't want to make a tragedy about the lack of historical memory, it can be very dangerous.
That's somewhat true of your films, though - you do treat the past almost as another character...
In a way, yeah. But the only way to do a film about the past - for me, at least - is to do it as if the past was where we actually live at the moment. Because when you shoot, the reality, the people, the landscape, the faces and the bodies in front of your camera, even if they're dressed up in period costumes, they are in the present, they are contemporary to you as you are shooting them. And the only verb the camera knows how to conjugate is the present.
Question & Answer Text Copyright Twentieth Century Fox