Les Amandiers (Forever Young) | 2022 Cannes Film Festival Review
Mixed Nuts: Tedeschi Returns to Acting School in Charming, Vigorous Homage
For her fifth narrative feature, the indefatigable Valeria Bruni Tedeschi conjures a nostalgic reunion in front of and behind the camera with Les Amandiers (Forever Young). Set in the late 1980s, the ensemble feature follows a group of twelve theater students auditioning for and receiving entrance to Patrice Chéreau and Pierre Romans’ famed Theatre des Amandiers in Nanterre. Set around the time Tedeschi herself worked with Chéreau in his 1987 film Hotel de France (she would also later feature in his 1998 film Those Who Don’t Love Me Can Take the Train), it’s a generous snapshot of impassioned youths honing their craft for a venerated, unabashedly gay creative whilst wading through drug addiction, the AIDS crisis and a myriad of personal dilemmas.
The film also feels as if its a spiritual prequel to Tedeschi’s 2007 sophomore film, Actresses, in which she stars as a performer rehearsing Turgenev who reunites with a drama school colleague—-that film, like this one, was also penned alongside Noemie Lvovsky and Agnes de Sacy, while Louis Garrel also returns as cast member. Eventually a bit self indulgent, which is no surprise when an actor creates a project meant to highlight acting, there’s much to admire in this impassioned period piece attempting to step beyond the yoke of mere nostalgia.
Nanterre, 1980s. Famed director Patrice Chéreau and Pierre Romans run a prestigious acting school where students eagerly compete to make the cut. During one particular season, entrance exams yield a first round of forty students, eventually whittled down to a lucky twelve who will get to travel to New York and be directed in productions by Chéreau and Romans. First up is a production of Checkov’s Platonov, ironic as it’s about aging characters mourning their youth to be acted out by those in the bloom of it. The dozen students embark on incestuous friendships and liaisons while they pursue their skills and, eventually, a better understanding of themselves.
The opening sequence is one of the best of the film, throwing us into entrance exam auditions, where we first meet the pseudo centerpiece of the cast, Stella (whose surname lends itself to some nice Streetcar theater jokes). A myriad of hopeful students, most of whom don’t pop again if they didn’t make the initial cut (though Suzanne Lindon reappears for some comic flavor), bustle about in a desperate fury to be seen and heard. As Pierre Romans, he who ‘runs’ the school, Micha Lescot appears to be mildly amused, though he takes a backseat to the proceedings once rehearsals of Platanov ramp up. And from here on out, Tedeschi follows their stories, which intersect and parallel, as the play progresses. An HIV scare and some heroin usage are cause for mild terror, eventually spinning out of control and into tragedy for some of them.
Like many actors who either frequently or infrequently direct, soundtrack selection tends to be over utilized or too blatant, such as the New York stint at the Actors’ Studio, where, for some reason, Janis Joplin belts her raspy notes out when someone more period appropriate might have been effective. There are odd bits of humor, like Liv Hennenguier’s crush on Romans, which bears strange fruit when he’s so strung out during a rehearsal she takes the opportunity to act on her fantasies.
Tedeschi is apparently closely knit with the Garrel clan, as Maurice was featured alongside Louis in the earlier Actresses, while young sister Lena pops up here to be castigated as the weakest link by her brother’s rather impartially construed Chéreau (though he does take a particular liking to one of his male students, natch). Warm energy between Clara Bretheau’s Nora and Stella segues into the latter being the object of seemingly every hetero male’s affection in the troupe, and energy tends to wane with Stella’s love for Etienne (Sofiane Bennacer) drifts into a The Souvenir (2019) type toxic romance.
Also in the cast is Alexia Chardard (of Kechiche’s Mektoub films) as one of the cast members having children during production. The most gratifying performance arrives in Nadia Tereszkiewicz as Stella, who starred alongside Tedeschi in Dominik Moll’s Only the Animals (2019), if only because she is allowed the most room to display a range. However, the narrative self-indulgence also tends to grate regarding Stella, who dons a Dakota Fanning wig and talks to ghosts on stage.
A lovely vintage vibe across New York and Nanterre of 1986 occurs thanks to DP Julie Poupard (Les Miserables, 2019), but sometimes the period reads more vintage than it is, thanks in part to the soundtrack, at times. Enjoyable, with some navel gazing tendencies, Tedeschi has a strong command in an environment she clearly knows and loves.
Reviewed on May 23rd at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition. 126 Mins