Sex across the age spectrum, from the adolescent to the antiquarian, dominates the latest film releases. In Bernardo Bertolucci's '68-set drama The Dreamers, a trio of young Cinematheque Francais devotees hole up in a lavish apartment to play incestuous Neros, fiddling (with themselves and each other) while Paris burns. Meanwhile, in Nancy Meyers's "autumnal romcom" Something's Gotta Give, a glamorous divorcee (Diane Keaton) discovers, following a fling with her daughter's ageing date, played all too easily by that pensionable Lothario Jack Nicholson, that she still likes sex after all. In America, Keaton has been feted for her winning turn with a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination. As for Bertolucci, he has scored an even more remarkable victory by preventing his "adult" film from being butchered for a Stateside family audience.
Inspired by Gilbert Adair's 1988 novel The Holy Innocents, which the author rewrote during his collaboration with Bertolucci, The Dreamers is a promiscuously playful affair, a tale of an American student falling in with spoilt French twins. Observing the world like peeping Toms and living vicariously through cinema, Isabelle (Eva Green) and her brother Theo (Louis Garrel) exist in a world of childish game-playing, daring each other to "name that movie" and demanding masturba-tory forfeits for failure. When Matthew (Michael Pitt, looking uncannily like a young David Hemmings) joins the party, the three restage the high-speed dash through the Louvre from Bande a Part before retiring to their rooms for an often funny but increasingly indulgent journey of sexual, philosophical and, ultimately, political discovery. "It's about the spring," says Adair, "the springtime of Paris, the springtime of its political awakening, and the springtime of their bodies." Hmm.
Although jokingly dubbed First Tango in Paris, The Dreamers has none of the heavyweight nihilism of its controversial predecessor, a film so allegedly degrading that it once provoked a short-lived prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act. Instead, Bertolucci ambles around in an amiable fashion, juggling riffs from movies, pamphlets, newsreels and pop music in a manner that teeters between the entertaining, the intriguing and the irritating. Certainly there is a naive charm about the film's evocation of an age of innocence in which people really could get into fights over film directors, then go wandering around the Left Bank smoking Gitanes and spouting Mao. But in the end, it is Bertolucci's outspoken opposition to American cuts (it had no censorship problems here in the UK) that is perhaps The Dreamers' most radical commodity - making it the first studio picture in years to open in the US with an adults-only "NC-17" certificate.
If nothing else, the film may signal a return to "respectable" grown-up cinema, even if its subject matter is immaturity, and its depiction occasionally a tad puerile. As Bertolucci himself says: "I'm relieved. After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb!" Now there's a slogan worth manning the barricades for.
Less explosive, but more efficiently accomplished, is Something's Gotta Give, an entertaining screwball comedy which also leads to the banks of the Seine, where our lovers discover that (like Bogart and Bergman) they will always have Paris. Diane Keaton shines as the spiky, single playwright who rediscovers her fondness for fleshly passions in the arms of not one but two suitors - a crotchety Jack Nicholson, who has a heart attack while attempting to bed her daughter, and a spunky Keanu Reeves as the doctor (stop sniggering) who helps get "Mister Midnight" up and running again. Something's Gotta Give comes in the wake of Anne Reid's barnstorming turn in The Mother, which sadly failed to win audiences with its sensuous depiction of a mature woman's sexuality. But this film is a textbook "water-cooler" hit - it tickles watchers' fancy in the cinema, then gives them something "serious" to talk about at work the next day. "What do we do about birth control?" mumbles Jack, having first had his blood pressure tested to ensure that he can still fornicate without dying. "Er . . . the menopause?" replies Keaton, prompting a splendidly lecherous gruffle of "Who's a lucky boy, then . . ." as life-endangering battle commences.
Having run the gamut of relationship bases in films as diverse as Annie Hall (kooky romance), Looking for Mr Goodbar (dangerous promiscuity), The Good Mother (fraught parenthood) and more recently The First Wives Club (embittered divorce), Keaton dominates Something's Gotta Give with an assured and experienced performance, clearly relaxed in the company of her long-time collaborator Nancy Meyers. Jack cruises, Keanu struggles, and Frances McDormand gets way too little to do in a goofy supporting role. Overall, it is 15 minutes and at least two endings too long. But any film that manages to get a laugh out of exposing Jack's flabby arse deserves our affection.
The Dreamers (18) and Something's Gotta Give (12a) are on general release