Actresses Acting Up

January 1, 2008By Heidi EllisonFilm

How strange to watch a deeply misogynistic film written, directed by and starring women. In Actrices, directed by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, most of the female characters are depicted as highly irrational and hysterical (if not insane) sexual predators whose main concerns are trapping a man and having babies, while the men are kind, solid, down-to-earth creatures, with one notable exception (who happens to be gay).

Written by Bruni Tedeschi (sister of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s new girlfriend, the singer and former model Carla Bruni) and Noémie Lvovsky, with the “collaboration of” Agnès De Sacy, Actrices starts off promisingly with the harrowing image of a grand piano dangling precariously from a crane high in the sky as it is being delivered to a Paris apartment building. The two Italian ladies watching from the window turn out to be the mother (Marisa Borini) and aunt (Simona Marchini) of Marcelline, the main character, played by Bruni Tedeschi, who is soon shown arriving at a theater to meet the cast of the new play she will be starring in, Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, directed by Denis (Mathieu Amalric).

Marcelline is nearing 40 and – inexplicably at that age – nearly menopausal, according to a scene with her gynecologist. Desperate to find a husband and have a baby, she takes her mother’s suggestion and prays to a statue of the Virgin Mary, promising to “renounce all glory and honors” if she gets her wish. While waiting, she rehearses the play and becomes increasingly hysterical in a diva-like way. In one scene, she refuses to wear a green dress approved by the director because her “body rejects it.” Denis calms her by slapping her face and then raping her (this in spite of the fact that he is supposedly gay). This outrageous violation is never mentioned again and is even treated as a joke: Marcelline is later seen docilely wearing the green dress onstage. Marcelline also starts seeing and talking to dead people (shades of “Six Feet Under”) and other imaginary characters.

Marcelline’s counterpart is Nathalie (Noémie Lvovsky), a friend from acting school days who is now the director’s assistant because she can’t get work as an actress. Marcelline envies Nathalie because she is married with children, while Nathalie envies Marcelline’s starring role in the play. Later we discover that Nathalie has fallen madly in love with Denis and is willing to abandon her loving husband and children for him – oh, these women, never satisfied, not to be trusted! In one desperate scene, she tries to make love to him, to his great dismay and disinterest.

A subplot concerns women falling in love with much younger men: Eric, a young actor (played by the talented Louis Garrel, star of the charming Les Chansons d’Amour, who mainly just gets to look pretty and moody and bite his nails in this part), falls in love with her, mirroring the story of the play, and Marcelline’s mother announces near the end of the film that she is starting an affair with her 30-year-old English teacher.

As Marcelline’s hysteria intensifies, we begin to wonder if she is supposed to be literally crazy and always has been or if it’s just the missing husband and baby causing her to act so strangely. There is no way to know. Just when you think she is going off the deep end, the film ends – incongruously – on a hopeful note to the strains of the disco hit “I Will Survive.”

The audience didn’t seem to know what to make of this film, laughing at inappropriate moments. Not surprisingly, an interview with Bruni Tedeschi in the film’s press release reveals that much of the plot is based on her own life (she was once fired from the leading role in A Month in the Country and replaced by the director’s assistant, and her gynecologist recently told her she didn’t have much time left to have a baby).

Life is messy, and so is this overlong film – the hand that should have shaped the story into a work of art is missing.


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