Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 04, 2023 1:54 pm 
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Lightening in a bottle: recreating a famous French acting school of the eighties

Forever Young recreates the youthfulness, the energy, and the risk of famous director-impresario Patrice Chéreau's regime in the 1980's at the Nanterre theatrical school of Les Amandiers. The young actors are beautiful and exciting. The action flows. In the director's version Chereau, played by Louis Garrel (with whom she was in a relationship from 2007 to 2012) is imperious and passionate. There is also another director, equally important, though two attractive young actors who are star-crossed lovers steal the show. Despite its slightly over two-hour run time, this is a vibrant ensemble piece that was presented in Competition at Cannes. Bruni Tedeschi, who collaborated on the writing with Caroline Deruas-Garrel and directdor Noémie Lvovsky , knows whereof she speaks. She was actine at the "dream space" avant-garde school at the time depicted along with, among others, Eva Ionesco, Agnès Jaoui, Vincent Perez and Bruno Todeschini.

There isn't much plot, more just stuff that happens. First there is the competition of a flurry of attractive and vibrant young people who perform or act crazy for the management seeking entry. It's their attractiveness and vibrancy that are this film's chief selling points; that the script and the direction don't get in their way. Forty chosen ones emerge, who will be narrowed down to twelve. A memorable sequence is simply the time when the young hopefuls crowd around the list of those selected, and the various exaggerated reactions when they learn they have or haven't been. One young women is so disappointed not to be, she winds up staying around as a waitress in an on-site restaurant. Some of the girls are pretty crazy, bragging that they're wearing no underpants, and lifting skirts to show their bare asses and farting.

Later, there will be drugs. The director is introduced to heroin by the most dynamic and dangerous student, Étienne (Sofiane Bennacer). Chéreau is partial to coke. A girl who is pregnant turns out when she is in hospital to have her baby to have AIDS. Since her young husband, also an actor-student, has had sex with many who have had sex with everybody else, there is panic. This subsides, however.

The film has the temerity to give Etienne a girlfriend called Stella (blonde, bee-sting lippped Nadia Tereszkiewicz) and suggest not entirely humorously that he might be compared to Brando. Bennacer indeed generates energy and dangerousness in spades (he has since become controversial and #MeToo-type accusations have caused him to be scheduled for judicial action*). But Étienne's problem is that he turns out not just to be playing with heroin but a full-on addict who confesses to Stella that he has black moods, that he's a psycho, and she better stay away. Too late, of course. There is much drama in the private lives for the actors to focus fully on the on-stage kind.

The feature of Les Amandiers at this time is that the "students" immediately become a "company" and time is not wasted on the usual exercises: instead both directors immediately begin rehearsals for play productions. (Later they will have the opportunity to join Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio n New York, though.) Chéreau, which really happened, decides because the actors are all so young themselves to stage a play Chekhov wrote when he was only eighteen. But we don't see much of this. What we do see is an lengthy tantrum Cheraau stages to complain of what he deems poor staging of an elaborate physical sequence involving restaurant tables moved together. It seems utterly pointless, indeed itself an acting exercise.

It's too hard, or too boring, to show a theater/acting school at work (just as it's too hard to show painters painting or writers writing or scientists discovering, or anybody doing work) and this, together with the energy of the specific actors, no doubt, that much of the excitement and focus of Foreever Young goes to the love of Étienne and Stella and the downward spiral of Étienne's too-exciting life. But while there are limitatiions here, the sweet English-language title is right to point the the chief feature, the youth, attractiveness and vibrancy of a group like this - as well as the inappropriate and dangerous behavior.

Some English-language critics hate this film. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian finds its "perpetual pouting and nonstop narcissism" to be "epically tiresome," Jessica Kiange of Variety finds it "indulgent," and Metacritic comes up with a mmiserable rating of 44%. The French critics (and French public reflected on AlloCiné) on the contrary were charmed by the sheer life and energy of this film and the AlloCiné press rating is 4.0 (80%). I side with them. Les Amandiers captures lightening in a bottle. However some moments may fail or go over the top, the dynamism and energy of a young theatrical troupe are captured here. It's worth it for its best moments, because they're fun and exciting. Bruni Tedeschi, as Le Monde's critic puts it, "pays tribute to the magic of acting, to the mystery of the dramatic art." It is that je-ne-sais-quoi she captures that can't be condensed into a "Fame"-style collection of techniques, thumbnail bios, or storylines.

Forever Young/Les Amandiers, 126 mins.,debuted in Competition at Cannes May 22, 2022, showing at Munich, La Rochelle, 'Angoulême, and at least 18 more festivals. [url=""]AlloCiné[/url]; [url=""]Metacritic[/url].

Sunday, March 5 at 9:30pm
Friday, March 10 at 1:00pm

*In defense of the young actor, 136 well known colleagues signed a statement urging that he not be penalized without trial. "Rape is a crime," it says, and because it is a crime, a court of law must decide if someone is guilty of it.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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