In this intricately layered Japanese film, the nature of actresses and what they gain from acting is explored. The lives of three actresses are laid bare, and scenes from their lives are woven in and out of interviews with each of them. Each of them has experienced a traumatic event which contributes to their particular enjoyment of becoming someone else in dramatic roles.
Marcelline is an actress. Forty, single and childless, she begins rehearsals for Turgenev's A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. Denis, the director, admires her greatly and promises he'll make her happy on stage - she will shine. But things don't go to plan. Denis introduces Marcelline to his assistant, Nathalie. The two women were at drama school together twenty years earlier. Nathalie tells her she had to give up acting: she has a husband and children. Marcelline and Nathalie look at each other as if in a mirror, each seeing in the other the life she doesn't have, the dreams she cannot bear to abandon. Their meeting is the first in a series of tremors that will turn Marcelline's life upside down.
The film’s narrative follows three leading actresses, all appearing in the same movie (but not appearing in the same shot until the end of the film), and all undergoing their own personal crises. It’s very formally worked out, through a series of carefully balanced dialogues with confessors, synchronized confrontation scenes, and staggered flashbacks. If Farewell was Yoshida’s self-conscious Resnais tribute, this is him in Bergman mode (Mariko Okada’s story even begins with her experience hysterical mutism, à la Persona), though the finished product is much livelier and more pungent than anything Bergman would have come up with (maybe Zetterling’s The Girls is a more apposite reference point). On another level, it’s also referencing a big old Hollywood melodrama, pastel panoramas in various shades of bitch (there are also nods to All About Eve).