Endless drama, perpetual pouting and nonstop narcissism in this epically tiresome movie from director Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi and screenwriter Agnes De Sacy about a generation of highly-strung and mercurially talented young drama students in the 1980s who are admitted to the prestigious acting school at Patrice Chéreau’s Theatre Des Amandiers in Nanterre.
Among the ranks of yearning and deeply serious hopefuls, Stella (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) is a passionate blonde star who is sort of embarrassed about the hugely wealthy home she comes from; Adèle (Clara Bretheau) is the rebellious, wacky figure who doesn’t wear knickers at the audition; Victor (Vassily Schneider) is a sweet-natured, klutzy boy; Étienne (Sofiane Bennacer) is the smack-addicted guy who starts going out with Stella, and his moody image and habit of shouting “Stella!” earn him the nickname Marlon Brando — the film’s one genuinely humorous moment.
The drama teacher Pierre Romans is played by Micha Lescot, and the legendary Chéreau is played with much smouldering imperious charisma by Louis Garrel.
This is a strange, overwrought setup, though perhaps quite accurately drawn, in which the students are in a permanent state of emotional meltdown. Étienne introduces his teacher Pierre to smack and the supposed authority figure gets completely out of it in the middle of a rehearsal. As for Chéreau himself, he is a huge cocaine enthusiast, and is shown snorting a massive line in the middle of the working day. The fact that all these students are sleeping with each other means that news of an HIV positive diagnosis creates a great spasm of shrieking anxiety and three of them are shown cramming into a single phone box to get the news of an Aids test. But this whole subject is treated with far less seriousness than a movie like, say, Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM and these young people don’t really appear to care about anything or anyone other than themselves.
With a subject like this, the shadow of Alan Parker’s Fame is never far away, and it is maybe too easy to mock. But what is exasperating about the film is its reluctance to dramatise the teaching: to show the young people themselves simply getting better at acting. They are doing a performance of Chekhov’s Platonov, one of whose themes is the fragility and impermanence of youth. But their relationship to Chekhov is not taken seriously: the play simply provides incidental scenes and a backdrop to the silly, soap-operatic uproar.