Cannes Review: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s ‘Forever Young’

If you’re the parent of a kid who’s thinking about becoming an actor, nothing could be scarier than watching Forever Young (Les Amandiers).

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s overweeningly verité-style look at young members of theater whiz Patrice Chéreau’s legendary company in the 1980s is a let’s-put-on-a-show spectacle of an extreme order, one that emphasizes and encourages unlimited narcissism, uncensored selfishness, massive drug consumption and self-destructive behavior that would have made the Sex Pistols envious.

This Cannes competition entry is a deep dive into an all-for-art lifestyle that encourages, nay, insists upon waywardness and irresponsibility and the hell with anything else. Those seriously into the performing arts of the last four decades might be curious to check this out, but it’s a tough sit nonetheless.

The proceedings begin with an exceedingly intense audition scene in which hopefuls are bluntly asked, “Why do you want to act?” Very quickly, the answer becomes clear, even if not stated directly — it’s because they crave attention, need approval and have emotional needs that can only be fed by people making them feel that they’re important. And most of all, of course, they just want to be loved.

As part of the process, actors need to learn how to draw people to them and make them watch, which often requires those being observed to resort to various extremes of behavior. Anything goes, as long as it draws the desired attention and, down the line, makes people willing and eager to pay for the privilege of beholding those with charisma and an ability to transform the everyday into the exceptional.

The competition is intense, of course, and the film catches bits of the heartbreak and exultation experienced by those vying for positions with the company. It’s also, to be honest, somewhat confusing, as the director cuts so fast and close to the bone that anything resembling normal narrative coherence is forsaken; you mostly get the gist of what’s happening, but you can forget about any conventional storytelling niceties; this is a film quite uninterested in developing character and story as they normally function.

In all events, the 40 contenders are eventually whittled down the chosen dozen and in short order the group is hurtling around lower Manhattan, in the vicinity of the Public Theater. If anything, the characters’ self-absorption is increased here, and the most self-centered of them all wastes no time in finding the drugs he craves and becoming a steaming mess because of them.

The play chosen for them to perform is a lesser-known Chekhov work, Platonov, but this is of minor importance compared to the characters’ all-consuming self-absorption, which becomes tiresome by the time everyone abruptly decamps back to Paris. AIDS tragically enters the picture at this point, but the overriding element you take away from the film is the truly overwhelming degree of narcissism these people feel with little reason to warrant it. This element alone makes the film a major turn-off.

Although it’s cut to the absolute bone, the film still overstays its welcome, as there’s just so much one can take of the characters’ self-dramatizing self-regard. Show people, as they used to be called, are usually fun to be around, at least some of the time, but these narcissists are just a drag.

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