Dir: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. Fr. 2007. 110mins
Facing 40 becomes a wake-up call for a neurotic self-absorbed performer in Actresses, the second feature from Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. Previously entitled Dream Of The Night Before, the film mines autobiographical material to explore the eternal conflict between professional success and personal happiness.
Modest insights and amusing incidents make for a minor but pleasing work. The strong ensemble cast should ensure some theatrical life in France and perhaps several other European territories but the film is likely to remain a festival attraction rather than a significant commercial success.
The backstage pressures and intrigue of the theatre have served as a memorable backdrop to many films, most notably All About Eve (1950) and Opening Night (1977). Actresses has neither the champagne wit of the Joseph Mankiewicz classic nor the sheer histrionic intensity of the Cassavetes opus. Instead, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi seems intent on a more low-key, naturalistic portrait of an actress at a crossroads.
Sleepwalking through life, Marcelline (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) almost seems impervious to her own state of mind. Told by a gynaecologist that time is running out if she wants a baby, she starts praying to the Virgin Mary for a husband and is beginning to sense her own desperation when she embarks on a production of A Month In The Country in which she plays Nathalia Petrovna. Director Denis (Mathieu Almaric) seems to bully a performance out of her and the film provides some amusement over the acting process and what it takes for a performer to relax and find their individual way into playing a character. Visited by ghosts from her past and vaguely attracted to young actor Eric (Louis Garrel), Marcelline finds the line between life and art increasingly blurred as events begin to mirror the developments in the Turgenev play. On her 40th birthday she moves closer to asserting her independence and discovering what she really wants out of life.
One of the problems with Actresses is that Marcelline is not especially beguiling or unique as a character. She is not the great diva or sacred monster of a Margo Channing despite the wariness of colleagues and the comments from old friend Nathalie (Noemie Lvovsky) that she has changed and hardened over the years. Marcelline always remains sympathetic and vulnerable which makes her ultimate triumph over her own demons less dramatically satisfying. The conversations with the dead, including her father, also lend the film something of a wistful flavour. The theatrical setting, use of jazz music and Glenn Miller's 'In The Mood' contribute to a jaunty air that is vaguely reminiscent of Woody Allen but Actresses is not in that league. It is amusing rather than hilarious and perceptive rather than profound which is why its accomplishments remain minor ones.
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Agnes De Sacy