[A note: "Actresses" has just been picked up by IFC First Take. We’ve generally tried to avoid reviewing films that will be distributed by our sister company for obvious reasons, but, given that First Take is handling like, 99% of the NYFF line-up at this point, we’re setting that rule aside for now and you can take this with as large a grain of salt as you require.]
Method acting is a form of insanity. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi should know; she’s been acting in films for over two decades. In "Actresses," her second effort as a director, she prods the malleable, unstable temperaments of those who choose to spend their lives contorting their personalities into those of fictional characters by way of a stage production of Turgenev’s "A Month in the Country." Bruni Tedeschi, who co-wrote the film with NoÃ©mie Lvovsky and AgnÃ¨s de Sacy, stars as Marcelline, an established actress who’s turning 40 and whose inner voice of sanity is getting drowned out by the ticking of her biological clock, or maybe the naggings of her pragmatic mother (Marysa Borini), whose patience for Marcelline’s romanticism and lifelong girlishness is wearing thin. In following "A Month in the Country" from initial read-throughs into production, "Actresses" finds plenty of humor in the ridiculousness of the process, from Marcelline, in an early exercise, working herself into a frenzy trying to figure out how to open a door in character, to the gay director Denis (Mathieu Amalric) mauling Marcelline in her dressing room out of some idea of how a director should treat his chosen muse, to another in which Marcelline gives another actress three minutes to cry on cue. That last scene recalls Scott Coffey‘s 2005 portrait of a Hollywood starlet hopeful "Ellie Parker," but the film as a whole has more in common with Mitsuo Yanagimachi‘s "Who’s Camus Anyway," which screened at the festival two years ago and which also follows the folie Ã plusieurs of a big production. Actors are inherently dramatic people, argues "Actresses," because they spend their lives immersed in grand gestures and so can only communicate that way in real life, no matter how silly it seems to the normal population. Marcelline in particular has trouble separating the feelings of her character (who she starts to hallucinate in the form of Valeria Golino) from her own, and so may or may not have fallen for the actor (Louis Garrel) playing her character’s on-stage love interest, a relationship exacerbated by her own desperation to find love.
Bruni Tedeschi is radiant and milky-eyed as Marcelline, and also fearlessly loony. As the film goes on and becomes more funny-sad than funny, she becomes accordingly more shrill and unreasonable, until she finally finds herself echoing the iconic dramatic gesture of another high-strung cinematic heroine. For Marcelline, the act doesn’t win her any arguments, it just leaves her dog-paddling in the Seine.
"Actresses" screens October 11 and 13th at Frederick P. Rose Hall, and will receive an eventual theatrical release from IFC First Take.