A 40-year-old single actress struggles with maternal desires and a new stage role in “Actresses,” thesp Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s second turn behind, as well as in front of, the lens. Scripted with fellow boards-trodder Noemie Lvovsky, who also co-stars, pic is a wispy affair, overly indulgent on the helmer’s peculiar brand of wearying neurosis but saved by unexpected bursts of humor. Femme-centric comic-drama will mostly appeal to the distaff side of Euro arthouses, though fests may also come calling.
Italo-French actress Marcelline (Bruni Tedeschi) is described by an ex-b.f. as a “Swiss lake,” though she’s neither cold nor still. Nervous and flighty is more like it, and trying to find the center of her new role in Turgenev’s “A Month in the Country” is only making matters worse. Used to living solely through her characters, she’s not even capable of answering when director Denis (Mathieu Amalric) asks whether she, Marcelline, is right- or left-handed.
Her overanxious nature isn’t helped by the sounds of her biological clock ticking down, nor by the badgering from her mother (helmer’s real mom, Marisa Borini, showing a comic flair) about finding a husband. Inevitably, just as her character, Natalia Petrovna, falls for her child’s tutor, so, too, Marcelline starts looking at junior fellow actor Eric (Louis Garrel) with something other than collegial eyes. What she doesn’t realize is that he’s fallen even more for her.
Filling in the bare bones are a range of side characters, most notably Denis’ assistant, Nathalie (Lvovsky). A former acting student with Marcelline and now an unfulfilled wife and mother on the other side of the footlights, Nathalie, hands-down, is pic’s most appealing character, thanks to Lvovsky’s considerable comic charm. As with their earlier collaboration on “It’s Easier for a Camel…,” humor saves the whole from overtheatricality, just about balancing Bruni Tedeschi’s neurotic flakiness.
Other balances aren’t always so successful. The old device of ghosts coming to chat, used here twice, has gotten tiresome, and Valeria Golino’s brief turn as the spirit of Natalia Petrovna adds nothing to either character. As so often happens with dramas set among thesps, everyone goes off the deep end too quickly, especially Marcelline, aptly described as “a walking sack of emotions.”
Which makes her just the right role for Bruni Tedeschi, sporting an air of grease paint even when she’s praying in church: she’s always “Acting!” Louis Garrel, in a relatively small role, wisely underplays, and Lvovsky’s amusing open-eyed glances and timing are welcome diversions from annoying idiosyncrasies.
Handsome, fluid lensing is expertly crafted, especially some lovely overheard shots exhibiting a nice feel for space and helping to create mood. Excerpts from “The Marriage of Figaro” set off emotionally charged moments, and a terrific slowed-down version of “In the Mood” by the Puppini Sisters ends the proceedings on a harmonious note.
For the record, pic’s original title, “Dreams of the Night Before” (“La reve de la nuit avant”), is how it appears in the Cannes catalog.