Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
Trust me; I'm a film buff, and neither am I this attractive nor do I get laid this often or this easily. Rent Cinemania if you want to see a more authentic portrayal of film buffs and the quiet, lonely, well-ordered lives we lead. But authentic characters are not what this movie seeks; it exists to evoke the mindset of the time and place, the student revolutions in Paris in 1968. Bernardo Bertolucci captures the confused, noble innocence of the moment, and in his characters he finds three viewpoints on the conflict. Isabelle's two strongest traits throughout the film are her unbreakable bond with Theo and her instinct to protect Matthew from their abyss, and the ending provides the characters with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their dynamic. I don't understand how some viewers can complain of this film lacking a plot; surely it is more about tone and style, but so much happened that I found myself wondering how only days had passed.
I can only praise the story so much, as it comes straight from the original Gilbert Adair novel. What strikes me more is the tone, a particularly vivid recreation of the newfound sexual liberation of the 1960s and the conflict between the status of young people and their ambitions. (The maturity of the actors makes it difficult to remember that these characters are teenagers.) There's a delicate clarity to Theo's battle with his father and the way the twins try to initiate Matthew into their dynamic because they never found anyone else who sufficed. If teenagers are masses of conflicting hormonal urges and experimental identities, the effect must be multiplied for intoxicated movie teenagers in 1968 Paris, and this film runs the gauntlet of crises without ever overdoing them. If the characters are far more literate and well-spoken than they should be, even with their obvious intelligence, it is countered by their languor; you can see them as slackers of the nineties if they'd been born a generation later. Teenaged love is desperate and quick to blossom, and here is a film true to the complexity of it; these characters are more sophisticated and more interesting than the lust-addled horndogs of "Y tu mamá también."
There's a reflex we have to reject young acting prodigies like Michael Pitt because they're good-looking and seem to try too hard; I have seen him compared to the often-maligned Leonardo DiCaprio more times than I can count. But he's the right actor for this part despite his good looks, because this character would be trying very hard to act sophisticated among his new friends, and he wouldn't pull it off completely just as Pitt seems to fail in the part. Like Christina Ricci's teenager in love with a grownup in "Monster," there's a difference between a character who cannot convince and an actor who cannot be convincing. Eva Green and Louis Garrel have roles no less difficult and play them well, never resorting to histrionics or staginess, though that's most likely the director's sense of quality control.
I am no fan of the gaudy 1960s aesthetic in general, but I enjoyed this down-to-Earth portrayal of the mood, and the way it soft-pedaled its perfect-storm convergence of teenaged hormones, a shifting political landscape, and drugs and sex and rock 'n roll instead of pushing every scene to the limit. This gentle, sad, but nevertheless vivid film is one of the best of the year.