Actresses (2007) Poster

(2007)

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7/10
Failed productions
Chris Knipp10 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Valeria is valiant in this, her second directorial effort. She has tried to represent a person who may be embarrassingly like herself: an actress of stage and screen with serious self doubts, unmarried on the cusp of forty, childless and pushing the limits of her biological clock, starring in a play she can't get the hang of (one from which the actress in real life was fired). She has enlisted a highly qualified cast including her pal and collaborator Noémie Lvovsky (coauthor here), Matthieu Amalric, Louis Garrel, her own mother, Marysa Borini (as her mother), and Louis Garrel's rather awesome grandfather, Maurice. Unfortunately, the whole effort is a bust, not only the play-within-the-movie, but the movie itself. Somehow Bruni Tedeschi manages to make her role and the film at the same time both heavy-handed and vague.

Marcelline (Bruni Tedeschi) wants to have a child and prays constantly to the Virgin Mary for help. She might try finding a boyfriend. Instead she's pursued by her annoying nag of a mother (who natters on in Italian to a friend--these scenes mildly comic, but also rather superfluous), and shows such self-doubt in approaching a play she's to star in, Turgenev's 'A Month in the Country,' that she can't even say whether she's left-handed or right-handed when pressed by the annoying director, Denis (Amalric). People say he's gay: why then does he practically try to rape her when she has one of her frequent neurotic fits--this time over the color of a dress--and tries to walk out of the role? Amalric is a remarkable, very often compulsively watchable, actor. But he can bug you sometimes, and his mixture of belligerence and craziness this time only makes him one more French cinematic theatrical cliché. Where is Jacque Rivette when we need him? He'd have had a light touch, and probably expanded the role of the play and made it a fascinating counterpoint to the other action. Here, that possibility of subtle parallels is only gestured at, the same bits from the play being repeated over and over. Eventually after rehearsals and the opening, Marcelline does walk off just as a performance is supposed to begin. By then it's too late. The screenplay is chronologically misconceived.

Éric (Louis Garrel), who plays the young tutor, Belyaev, who Marcelline's character falls in love with in the play, falls in love with her for real. Young Garrel has fun with his small role, managing his usual sultriness effortlessly and subtle about his declarations. But they're wasted on Marcelline. Or is it just bad luck that she thinks Éric's gotten involved with a younger woman at the end? Maurice Garrel, who's usually cast as a dead or dying man these days, appears, briefly, as Marcelline's dead father. There's another dead person, or rather a person who never lived: Natalia Petrovna, the character Marcelline is playing, as represented by Valeria Golino. It's hard to see how any of this business fits in, because everything has started off on the wrong track.

Noémie Lvovsky and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi make an odd contrast, certainly not one that is to the benefit of Bruni Tedeschi.The thing is, Bruni Tedeschi does come through as wooden, just as the characters tell her she is ("a Swiss lake" a former lover called her), and Lvovsky has an appealing funkiness, a slight comic edge to her. Lvovsky's character, Nathalie, Marcelline's former acting school classmate and Denis' collaborator in putting on the play, is the one who takes over the lead role when Marcelline walks away from it. Nathalie is unfulfilled professionally, perhaps matrimonially, but she does have a husband and young kids. Then one day she announces she's madly in love with Denis. That's when we're told he's gay. She doesn't care. Neither do we. But what we do care about is that Lvovsky is soulful and appealing. She makes us wonder why Bruni Tedeschi should be at the center of the film--which gravitates to Lvovsky every time she's on screen.

There's something going on with swimming and music, with some pretentious uses of The Marriage of Figaro and some rather peppy use of big band swing--and through it all somehow, exactly how it's hard to say, the hint that a suicide attempt may actually be a new beginning. But that's the end of the movie--a freeze-frame in mid-breaststroke.

Frankly, everything about this film feels misfired. It starts off on the wrong foot. It makes its points far too heavy-handedly. It's star/director is unappealing. You want to shake her and point to Louis Garrel and say Go girl, he wants you, get laid! What does she think the virgin Mary is going to do, provide her with a virgin birth too?

Some of the other projects Bruni Tedeschi has been associated with have not impressed much. To wit: (working backwards) Ridley Scott's 2006 'A Good Year' (not a good film). Nobuhiro Suwa's insufferably boring 2005 'A Perfect Couple'/'Un couple parfait,' Ducastel and Martineau's underwhelming 'Cote d'Azur'/'Crustacés et coquillages' (same year). Whether or not you liked the movie (I did not) her role in Spielberg's 2005 (busy year!) 'Munich' was minor. Sheis central to Ozon's pretentious, misfired '5x2' (2004). Her rather odd role in Ozon's much better 'Le temps qui reste' is touching in its way.
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8/10
Stage Fright
writers_reign28 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
There's a term paper waiting to be written on the distinction between French actresses who abandon acting in favour of writing/directing - Ann Fontaine, Toni Marshall, Diane Kurys, Coline Serrau, Vera Belmont, Danielle Dubroux, Jeanne Labrune, Marion Vernoux, those who continue to act - Valerie Lemercier, Agnes Jaoui, Noemie Lvovsky, Josiane Balasko, Zabou Breitman - and even those who abandoned directing in favour of acting - Arielle Dombasle, Nathalie Delon. Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi belongs firmly in the second category and after an auspicious directing debut with the heavily autobiographical Il Est plus facile pour une chameau ... she has now followed it with Actrices - which will be released in France in December - which also contains suspicious traces of autobiography and in which her real-life mother Marysa Borini is again cast as her mother (albeit Valeria is playing a different character) and Pascal Bongard reprises his role as a priest. Valeria has cast herself as a forty-something actress (she is 43)who has a rendez-vous with a mid-life crisis, having neither husband, lover or children and a biological body clock putting in for time and a half. In this frame of mind she contracts to play the lead in Turgenev's A Month In The Country despite having no clue as to how to get into the role and it is these elements that amalgamate into a slightly offbeat but ultimately rewarding movie. It may be that life is in rehearsal to imitate art: Bruni-Teseschi was billed to appear at the English premiere but failed to show; ac week earlier she had failed to show at a premiere in Bercy, this time for Faut que ca danse, written and directed by her good friend Noemie Lvovsky, who co-wrote both Il Est facile and Actrices and co-stars in the latter, Valeria is also dating Lou Garrel which is enough to propel anyone over the edge. Be that is it may in Actrices Bruni-Tedeschi has delivered a fine follow up to Il Est plus facile and I for one look forward to her next directorial effort.
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6/10
More France than Woody Allen
stensson30 June 2008
It has been called a comedy in his spirit. It isn't. Surely the people here are neurotic, but much more than they are in an Allen movie. And they lack his humour.

Marcelline is the actress who goes Turgenyev. In her private life, she desperately wants a child. She's 40 now. This neurosis together with the part she's acting, almost destroys her. She doesn't know who she is anymore.

But instead of being a movie about common life, this is more a movie about theatre. And you don't feel much, watching it. Woody Allen is far away.
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