EEndless drama, perpetual sulking and relentless narcissism in this epically boring film from director Valérie Bruni-Tedeschi and screenwriter Agnès De Sacy about a generation of high-strung and talented young drama students in the 1980s who are admitted to the prestigious theater school of Patrice Théâtre des Amandiers de Chéreau in Nanterre.
Among the ranks of eager and deeply serious hopefuls, Stella (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) is a passionate blonde star who is a bit embarrassed by the extremely wealthy house she comes from; Adèle (Clara Bretheau) is the rebellious and wacky figure who doesn’t wear panties to the audition; Victor (Vassily Schneider) is a sweet and klutzy boy; Étienne (Sofiane Bennacer) is the slap-addicted guy who starts dating Stella, and his brooding image and habit of shouting “Stella!” earns him the nickname Marlon Brando – the only truly humorous moment in the film.
The drama teacher Pierre Romans is played by Micha Lescot, and the mythical Chéreau is embodied with a smoking imperious charisma by Louis Garrel.
It’s a strange and overworked setup, though perhaps quite faithfully drawn, in which the students are in a permanent state of emotional breakdown. Étienne introduces his teacher Pierre to smack and the supposed authority figure doesn’t give a damn in the middle of rehearsal. As for Chéreau himself, he is a huge cocaine lover and is shown snorting a massive line in the middle of the work day. The fact that all of these students are sleeping with each other means that the news of an HIV diagnosis creates a great spasm of screaming anxiety and three of them are shown crammed into a single phone booth to get the news of an AIDS screening test. But this whole subject is treated with much less seriousness than a film like, say, Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM and these young people don’t really seem to care about anything or anyone but themselves.
With a topic like this, Alan Parker’s shadow of fame is never far away, and perhaps it’s too easy to scoff. But what is infuriating about the film is its reluctance to dramatize the teaching: to show the young people themselves simply improving. They interpret Chekhov’s Platonov, one of whose themes is the fragility and impermanence of youth. But their relationship with Chekhov is not taken seriously: the play merely provides incidental scenes and a backdrop to the silly uproar of the soap opera.