The 28th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema — brought to audiences by Unifrance and Film at Lincoln Center — newly celebrates the vitality of contemporary French filmmaking. The 2023 line-up features the latest work by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, that was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.
The Italian-French artist returns behind the camera to crystallise on film her love for the stage. The filmmaker brings to the silver screen an autobiographical tale, as she retraces the time when she was a pupil of the famous stage director Patrice Chéreau. Forever Young (Les Amandiers), in addition to the theme of acting, puts a spotlight on an era — the Eighties — characterised by drugs, the spectre of AIDS, and all the dilemmas intrinsic to an artistic sphere traversed by youth.
Stella (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) is the girl who represents the young Bruni Tedeschi, an aspiring actress who comes from a privileged background and gets accepted — along with other eleven students — in the acting school École des Amandiers in the outskirts of Paris, Nanterre. Through Stella a choral narrative comes to life, where audiences get a glimpse of each existence that crosses the path of the young actress. There is her boyfriend Étienne (Sofiane Bennacer), who cannot quit drugs, her whimsical friend Adèle (Clara Bretheau), whom she meets during auditions and encourages her to bare herself naked as an actor. All of Stella’s other classmates have personal stories that overlook greater issues, from embracing parenthood at a young age, to being potentially affected by a life-threatening condition. Thus we get acquainted with the misadventures of Franck (Noham Edje), Victor (Vassili Schneider), Claire (Eva Danino), Juliette (Liv Henneguier), Baptiste (Baptiste Carrion-Weiss), Anaïs (Léna Garrel), Laurence (Sarah Henochsberg), Stéphane (Oscar Lesage) and Camille (Alexia Chardard).
Besides the students of the theatre school, Les Amandiers unabashedly leads us into the world of its tutors. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi doesn’t place them on a pedestal, on the contrary she shows how every light has its shadow. In fact, the teachers who represents beacons of knowledge are just as frail human beings as the young people they are mentoring. Both the director of the school Patrice Chéreau — played artfully by Louis Garrel — and Professor Pierre Romans (Micha Lescot), epitomise the multiformity of bohemia and unveil how the sacred art of the theatre intertwines with its profane dark sides.
The film inevitably evokes the glorious musical Fame, that was adapted for the big screen in 1980 and become a television series that aired from 1982 until 1987 on NBC. The teen musical drama film directed by Alan Parker, set in New York City has several common points with Les Amandiers, that are enhanced when Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s characters have a study experience at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in the Big Apple. The cradle to the Actors Studio shows the craft of acting through sensory exercises that reach the point of becoming therapy sessions.
Forever Young captures with authenticity an epoch and portrays the emotional complexity of using humanity as a professional tool. The film’s cinematography by Julien Poupard and choice of music heighten the nostalgic allure, so magically orchestrated by Bruni Tedeschi. Franz Liszt’s Grandes Etudes de Paganini, Serge Gainsbourg’s Parce que, Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobbie McKee, Les Rita Mitsouko’s Andy, Alessandro Scarlatti’s O cessate di piagarmi and Fred Buscaglione’s Guarda che luna all criss-cross with the lives of the characters who live through the words of others. Chekhov’s Platonov and Heinrich von Kleist’s Penthesilea mirror the efforts of fleeting youth as fiction coalesces with reality. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi also makes a nod to Tennessee Williams as Étienne shouts out the protagonist’s name “Stella!”. The film even celebrates Konstantin Stanislavski, not only through his technique of Method Acting, but also in an exchange between a teacher and a pupil that reminds us all that there are no small roles, but only small actors.
Les Amandiers creates an evocative trip down memory lane, where a bygone decade exemplifies the world of performance art and the unquenchable desire of youth to grasp its essence.
Final Grade: B+