If You Liked ‘Saltburn,’ Consider This Much Better Movie

I was at my mom’s house in the suburbs when I watched Barry Keoghan make love to his bestie’s grave in Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn.”

“Promising Young Woman,” Fennell’s previous film, a rape-revenge thriller for the girlboss generation, was a toothless bid at provocation. “Saltburn” seemed to promise a similar blend of all style, no substance, but the online hype had piqued my curiosity. So, there I was, watching Keoghan as an Oxford student named Oliver become one with the soil, my mother snoozing beside me.

The moment brought back memories from adolescence of the dozens of times she’d walk into my teenage bedroom — or the same living room where I was watching “Saltburn” — to find me slack-jawed in the middle of “Basic Instinct” or “A Clockwork Orange.” Naturally, she always seemed to waltz in during the most morally compromised or sexually bewildering scenes.

One movie in high school that had me constantly looking over my shoulder was “The Dreamers,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s notorious coming-of-age drama. Like “Saltburn,” it’s a story about cloistered wealth and beautiful students with deranged and obsessive desires. An outsider like Oliver, Matthew (Michael Pitt) is a blue-eyed American doing a year abroad in Paris, where he’s pulled into the decadent world of the twins Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green, in her first credited role). The French teenagers live with their intellectual parents in a luxurious loft and frequent the Cinémathèque Française like devout churchgoers. This is 1960s France, when going to the movies had all the luster and sex appeal of rolling up to the hottest nightclub.

In “Saltburn,” as in “The Dreamers,” there are wealthy siblings (Jacob Elordi, center, and Alison Oliver) as well as a friend staying with them (Barry Keoghan).Credit…Chiabella James/Amazon Studios

Released in the United States 20 years ago this month, “The Dreamers” arrived from overseas radiating scandal. The original version was rated NC-17, but American audiences — thanks to paranoid distributors — got the slightly shorter, R-rated cut. Bertolucci, the Italian director of divisive films like “Last Tango in Paris” (1972) and “The Conformist” (1970), had long established himself as an auteur of sexually explicit cinema. Yet “The Dreamers” pushed the boundaries of the collegiate sex movie, rivaling (and arguably surpassing) what were then Hollywood’s most scandalous stabs at youthful lusting, like “Wild Things” and “Cruel Intentions.”

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