A solemn and bittersweet evocation of nearly three decades in the lives of a group of friends and colleagues united by their youthful dedication to the theater, “30 Years” is a guilty pleasure for serious filmgoers with a taste for well-observed but underwhelming sagas. Pic, which centers on a legit director’s irrational, yet enduring love for an actress who vanished him, smoothly incorporates elements of artistic idealism, political commitment and professional compromise, and adds a soupcon of fate to illustrate how some folks change while others stay the same. This fourth theatrical feature in 15 years by writer-director Laurent Perrin (“Passage Secret,” “Buisson Ardent,” “Sushi, Sushi”) is worth a look by festival programmers.
Pic begins in Paris in 1974. Congenitally mopey Aurelian (Laurent Lucas), longtime g.f. Barbara (Nathalie Richard) and childhood friend Antoine (Gregori Derangere) have founded a fledgling theater that has taken as its cause the plight of Chile in the repressive aftermath of Pinochet’s bloody coup against Allende.
Jeanne (Anne Brochet), a lovely young woman with no apparent past, shows up at the theater, turning director Aurelian’s head from the start. But it’s his charming and seductive buddy, Antoine, who’s the first to bed her.
Barbara’s father, a diplomat, helps get dissident actor Luis Miguel Suerte (Hector Noguera) out of Chile to appear in the troupe’s forthcoming Brecht play. Jeanne — whose acting talent is revealed when she fills in for a missing thesp at rehearsal — is deeply smitten with the fiftysomething Luis, and the two embark on a tender affair before an abrupt development prompts Jeanne to disappear without a trace.
Pic jumps ahead eight years to find Aurelian directing a traveling troupe that includes current g.f. Ariane (Julie Depardieu), once-celebrated actress Genevieve (Arielle Dombasle), and slightly-over-the-hill lead Nicolas (Andre Valardy), still famous for a role on a TV series. Antoine, now a slick image consultant, turns up once again and gets his old friend a gig staging a play in Dunkirk. Aurelian is in the thick of a premature midlife crisis but still carries Jeanne’s picture in his wallet and writes about her in his ever-present diary.
Various threads of the story are satisfyingly taken up and resolved in the final, contemporary portion of pic.
Film, shot in continuity, eschews psychological explanations, yet endows its many characters with suitable heft. Thesps are fine across the board, and narrative ellipses are handled with grace. Fawnlike and mysterious, Brochet (who made her screen debut in Perrin’s “Buisson Ardent” in 1987) makes a powerful impression, although she’s absent for large chunks of the movie.
Different eras are implied with just enough adjustments in style and surroundings to situate the action.