Actresses (2007)

The most frustrating aspect of San Francisco Film Society’s (SFFS) French Cinema Now was that I couldn’t see all of the films.  In fact, I did not even make it into the film that I was originally trying to see because the Blue Angels filled the busses down Fillmore.  I have almost forgiven the plane shows for all the disruptions they have caused this past week due to how much I loved Actresses (2007), the film I ended up seeing, which I would not have seen otherwise.  Of course, I do not think that I would have seen a bad film this weekend since SFFS made a point to show award-winning material; most of it from the past two years but two were from the nineties and one from 1965. Regardless, although I would like to see some of the other films, I am still very glad that I got to see the one that I did.

Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi is the director/co-writer/star powerhouse behind Actresses.  In this movie Bruni-Tedeschi plays Marcelline, a fairly successful actress going through, effectively, a mid-life crisis.  Marcelline is in her early forties but has started going into menopause and realizes very suddenly that all she wants is a child and, since she has no husband, or even a boyfriend at the time, this dream will probably not come true.  Much of her neurosis stem from this idea of having a child, but she is also plagued with visions of her dead father, fiancé, and the embodiment of the character she is playing in the play A Month in the Country that she is rehearsing for and eventually performs throughout the movie.  The play adds to Marcelline’s difficulties because she is so entrenched in confusion about her own person and then playing a character that is very different from her and ultimately she gives a performance that audiences love but those who know her very well know to be less than her best.  One of the indicators to her mother and aunt is that Marcelline cannot genuinely laugh in the play – which she tries to solve several different ways.  To add to everything she also finds herself having feelings for a much younger man in the play but does not know how to react to these feelings.  One thing continually builds on another throughout the movie and Bruni-Tedeschi shows the increasing neurosis of an actress. 

Actresses is not Bruni-Tedeschi’s first time playing a neurotic character, in fact, “[she] is so much at ease in this sort of context that she has [played many] borderline characters…neurotic girls who are victim to all sorts of phobias, caught up in a living hell” (Murat).  Pierre Murat classified her as part of a new generation of French actresses in his article and although this is the only movie of hers that I have seen, I would believe that she has earned her place there.   Actresses was directed and co-written by Bruni-Tedeschi, so she cannot claim that she is purely typecast as these chronically upset women but, “As she herself puts it: ‘There are actresses who want to become stars and those who see acting as a sort of confession. I belong to the second category’” (Murat).  In fact, according to a review by Boyd van Hoeij from Cannes, where Actresses won a Special Jury Prize, “Actresses is at least partially autobiographical, though this time around the dramatic comedy set in the rich, bourgeois, and vaguely intellectual Parisian bubble of Bruni-Tedeschi’s alter ego veers more towards comedy as the film progresses, earning good-hearted laughs as well as, well, whatever one may feel towards this particular milieu.”  

Throughout Actresses there are several moments which are particularly brilliant or endearing.  Two of the moments are related to Marcelline’s obsession with having a child. At one point she desperately asks a priest if he will have a child with her because, “Christianity is all about giving.”  Near the end of the movie while Marcelline is at the theatre trying to laugh she hears a baby crying, and lo and behold her dreams are answered by a baby in a laundry basket.  She takes the baby into a dressing room and begins playing with it until the real mother appears, the extremely jealous and slightly unsettled stage manager for the play, who explodes at Marcelline and also crushes her dreams.  Another brilliant moment is set up earlier in the movie by a swimming instructor who works at the pool where Marcelline swims; to give power to her stroke, he tells her of a famous swimmer who would listen to Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” immediately before competing and would swim to the beat of the song.  At the end of the movie when Marcelline attempts to kill herself by jumping into the river she is seen shortly thereafter swimming madly to the bank, underscored by “In the Mood.”  It’s moments like these that truly made Actresses so enjoyable – Bruni-Tedeschi’s character is made so much more real by these intimate scenes of humanness. 

After having watched Actresses and enjoying it so much, as well as knowing of many other French films that have delighted me in their ability to show new stories (Audrey Tatou’s Amelie comes to mind) I find myself wanting to watch as many films as I can from France.  I can’t wait to see what else the country has to offer that I have yet to discover.  SFFS’s French Cinema Now has proven itself as the perfect starting guide.

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