Searchlight skeds NC-17 'Dreamers' for U.S.

Fox Searchlight Pictures will release the uncut version of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” in February with an NC-17 rating. That move, unprecedented for Searchlight, makes it the first NC-17-rated film released by an MPAA signatory company in more than six years.

Pic had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last year. The uncut version will screen next week at the Sundance Film Festival.

In a statement, Bertolucci said the pic “is finally making it to the U.S. in its uncut version. I’m relieved — in so many ways — that the distributor has had the vision to release my original film. After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb.”

Set against the turbulent political situation in France in the spring of 1968, pic follows three students testing each other to see just how far they will go. Left alone while their parents are on holiday, Isabelle (Eva Green) and her brother, Theo (Louis Garrel), invite American student Matthew (Michael Pitt) to stay at their apartment. They make their own rules as they experiment with their emotions and sexuality in a series of increasingly demanding mind games.

It has been 30 years since Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris,” which on its release garnered the most restrictive rating at the time, an X. Both helmer Bertolucci and co-star Marlon Brando were nommed for Oscars.

Searchlight prexy Peter Rice was traveling and unavailable for comment, but the specialty arm released a statement from him.

” ‘The Dreamers’ provocatively explores human sexuality in a frank way,” said Rice, adding, “By releasing the film as Bernardo originally intended, we are following in the footsteps of classic films like ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Last Tango in Paris.’ Like ‘The Dreamers,’ those masterpieces would not have been improved by cutting them to an R rating. We believe that NC-17 is the appropriate rating for ‘The Dreamers,’ given that this is not a film for children under 17; it is an audacious and original film for intelligent critics and discerning adult audiences.”

Conventional wisdom says the NC-17 is poison for studio films. According to Nielsen EDI’s film data, only two of 17 films released theatrically under the NC-17 rating have grossed more than $10 million — U’s “Henry and June” in 1990 and MGM’s “Showgirls” in 1995.

“I hate conventional wisdom,” said Fox Searchlight distribution prexy Steve Gilula. “The success of the film will be determined by the press and the public. This isn’t about what the MPAA would have required to cut. (Bertolucci) could have gotten an R, but that isn’t the issue. The fact is, there’s a version being shown in the rest of the world that wasn’t available in the U.S., and it didn’t seem right.”

The last film to receive the NC-17 designation was October Films’ 1998 release “Orgazmo” from “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It grossed just over $210,000.

“Dreamers,” nominated for a Goya for best European film, will open Feb. 6 in Los Angeles and New York and in selected cities nationwide beginning Feb. 13. Says Gilula: “We’re prepared to take this as wide as the public tells us it should go.”

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