My Golden Days | Trois Souvenirs de ma Jeunesse *** (2015)
Dir.: Arnaud Desplechin | Cast: Mathieu Almaric, Lou Roy-Lecollinet, Quentin Dolmaire, Pierre Andrau | France 2015 | 123’| Drama
Arnaud Desplechin is certainly one of the most maddening European directors: His idiosyncratic style, extreme detachment and hyper-ambivalent narratives always miss perfection by a small fracture – but it is a decisive one. And that is probably why this has simmered on the back burner for three years before its current release. Desplechin never seems to mature: his newest film MY GOLDEN DAYS, a sort of prequel to Ma Vie Sexuelle (1996), is once more an example of unfulfilled promise.
In chapters and an epilogue, we learn everything about Paul (Quentin Dolmaire): his unstable mother, who committed suicide when he was eleven, his father, who never got over the tragedy, young Paul’s adventure in the USSR, when he helped a Jew to emigrate, donating his passport. Set in Roubaix, were the director grew up, the main chapter is about the relationship between the teenager Paul (Almaric) and Esther (Roy-Lecollinet in a stunning debut). Paul falls in love with Esther, who has many suitors, but is still very insecure. Paul fights off rivals like Kovalki (Andrau), but when he goes to Paris to study, Esther, becoming more and more fragile without Paul, goes to bed with Kovalki – not so much for passion, but reassurance. In the epilogue, Paul accuses Kovalki of being traitorous, never seeing the point that he left Esther alone. Paul too is unfaithful (seven lovers), but this hardly counts – Desplechin’s misogyny is unruffled after all these years.
Mathieu Almaric is again Paul Dedalus, but Emannuelle Devos’ part of Esther is taken up by the young Lou Roy-Lecollinet. It says much for the film, the director and the male star that Roy-Lecollinet, born in the year Ma Vie Sexuelle was made, comes over hardly any more immature than Almaric, who is thirty years her senior. Whilst Almaric should get all the praise, Desplechin falls into the same trap once again: his witty and perfect dialogues only carry the film so far and the make-believe, that the protagonists resemble human beings, wears thin after an hour.
The leads display fantastic insights into each other lives, but their letters are incredible immature context wise – written by the urbane 54 year old director, and not starry-eyed lovers from the provinces. Further more, Desplechin mentions topics like the cold war, anthropology and the problems of the developing world with encyclopedic knowledge, displaying a wisdom which has no place in the world of his teenage lovers. As in most of Desplechin’s films, the characters are treated like rats in a laboratory, the all-knowing voice-over representing the director’s point of view.
It is sad that these great actors and the wonderful images of Irina Lubtchansky are in the hands of a man who believes in his own perfection, but lacks basic empathy with anyone else: Arnaud Desplachin’s aesthetic brilliance will never be enough, his near-autistic inter-activity with real humanity stands between him and real greatness. AS
ON RELEASE FROM 16 MARCH 2018