Les Amandiers is clearly a reminder of the youth of French-Italian actress and director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. It tells the story of a performer in her first years of training at the school founded by Patrice Chéreau and Pierre Romans at the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre. Set in the 1980s, it bears more than obvious parallels to The Souvenir (2019), Briton Joanna Hogg’s extraordinary self-fiction book. Despite being wrongly said, soon it won’t even reach the soles of shoes.
The protagonist of Les Amandiers is an upper-class young woman who (it seems) lives alone in a luxury apartment, unfortunately only with the butler. The young woman enters the prestigious theater school Chéreau amid the outbreak of heroin and AIDS and the film focuses on her love story with a junkie classmate. A handsome, talented, lower-class young man who appreciates her healthy, white, rich, girlish teeth.
Les Amandiers is reminiscent of too many well-known films, but without being so, such as the aforementioned work by Joanna Hogg, the musical drama Fame or the intimacy that haunts the cinema of Casavettes. A few similarities that remain on the surface of what is, in the worst sense, a hollow and impressionistic film. Everything is moody: the discovery of what it means to be an actress, the theater and some teachers, very problematic today, despite the elegiac tone intended. Bruni Tedeschi’s portrayal of Patrice Chéreau, played by Louis Garrell, looks like a bill that wouldn’t pass today’s cotton test. The worst thing isn’t the lines he gets between rehearsal and rehearsal, but the insinuations of his students’ molestation or his despotic character. It is surprising that in some statements the director speaks of a homage to the deceased idol of French cinema and theatre. It sounds like a joke.
With a major ego trip, Bruni Tedeschi tiptoes through his characters without going beyond plywood emotions to end up being a cheesy, affected and very smug portrait of a pathetic rich girl’s age of innocence. At one point in the film, her boyfriend steals her wallet and the character is portrayed involuntarily: it could be stolen a thousand times more.
And the central theme, the passion for the theater, is mundane, with all sorts of clichés of a superficial and torn vocation. To make matters worse, the play they are rehearsing is Platonov by Chekhov, and when a larger work like Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is too close, it’s almost unbearable to see the Russian author continue in vain is scanned. Honestly, a profession as exciting as that of an actor doesn’t deserve so much kitsch and so many commonplaces.
Left to right: Director Ali Abbasi, actress Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, actor Mehdi Bajestani and producer Jacob Jarek arriving for the screening of the film “Holy Spider” in Cannes. LOIC VENANCE (AFP)
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The other film in competition was the thriller Holy Spider by Ali Abbasi, a Dane of Iranian origin. The director of Border delves into the underworld of the Iranian city of Mashhad, where a serial killer brutally liquidates prostitutes. Abbasi chooses a woman, a journalist, as a counterpoint to the grim patriarchy he portrays. A woman traveling from Tehran to investigate a case that doesn’t seem to worry anyone.
Holy Spider is a dark and nocturnal film, well acted and with a disturbing pace from the start. A clumsy portrait of the hideous world of prostitution in a country where women’s lives are worth nothing. The film’s depravity is total, but manages to strike enough balance to not be totally free. And it’s also interesting when he dives into a corrupt police and judicial system that icily perpetuates an endless chain of horror.
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