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‘Dreamers’ fig leaf

Sexy Bertolucci pic going under the editing knife

A correction was made to this article on Aug. 22, 2003.

NEW YORK — Fox Searchlight has pushed back the North American release of Bernardo Bertolucci’s erotically charged drama “The Dreamers” from fall to spring while cuts are being made to the film’s nudity and sexual content to avoid a restrictive rating.

The film has its world premiere in an out-of-competition screening Sept. 1 at the Venice Film Festival and had been widely tipped to segue to a slot in the Toronto festival, though representatives for the latter event declined to confirm at what point “The Dreamers” was made unavailable.

While Fox Searchlight originally announced an Oct. 3 domestic release, the film is now slated to bow March 19 in a version that likely will be modified from the cut going out in Europe.

Aside from content concerns, the shift in release dates may make sense for Fox Searchlight given that October is exceedingly jammed with high-end art niche specialty titles, including Miramax’s “The Station Agent,” UA’s “Pieces of April,” Focus Features’ “Sylvia” and HBO/Fine Line’s “Elephant,” not to mention probable September holdovers like Focus’ “Lost in Translation” and Miramax’s “The Human Stain.”

‘Maximum opportunity’

“With every one of our movies, we’ve worked hard to have a complete strategy,” Fox Searchlight distribution prexy Steve Gilula told Daily Variety. “We look at our release dates to make sure each movie has the maximum opportunity.

“The fall is a very crowded time, and it becomes kind of a demolition derby,” he added. “But March is a great time to release distinctive movies. It doesn’t have that competitive air that the fall has. We feel that’s the best time for Bertolucci to get the recognition he deserves.”

Set against the political backdrop of the 1968 student riots in Paris, the film depicts an intensely sexual menage a trois among a young American exchange student and a French brother and sister, who shack up together in the twin siblings’ family apartment while their parents are away. It stars Michael Pitt, Eva Green and Louis Garrel.

“The film was not ready to Fox Searchlight’s specifications in time to build a campaign for October,” publicity exec Jamie Geller said. “We’ve been talking about what to do with the movie to make it strategically right for us,” she added.

“As far as we’re concerned, there hasn’t been a North American version delivered yet,” Gilula said. He maintained that if cuts were to be made, they would be made by Bertolucci and producer Jeremy Thomas.

Geller and Gilula deferred specific questions to Fox Searchlight president Peter Rice, who is on vacation and could not be reached. Producer Thomas declined to comment on Fox Searchlight’s decision, while Bertolucci also was vacationing and could not be contacted.

The intimate coverage of sexual acts and extensive male and female full-frontal nudity in “The Dreamers” inevitably will invite comparison to Bertolucci’s groundbreaking drama “Last Tango in Paris,” which sparked controversy when it was released in 1973 and was initially banned for obscenity in the director’s native Italy.