Chris Campbell on Arnaud Desplechin

On Friday, Carbon Arc is showing My Golden Days, the new film from renowned French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin.

Chris Campbell is a media creator based in Wolfville with a keen interest in combining storytelling with new technologies. He’s edited film, shot video, recorded sound, hosted radio and TV shows. He teaches Screen Arts at NSCC in Dartmouth.

He’s a Desplechin aficionado, so I asked him to tell me about the filmmaker:

What was the first Desplechin film you saw? What was its impact on you?

After reading a rave review I sought out the DVD of Desplechin’s 2004 film Kings and Queen and was blown away by it. What struck me immediately was the way the tone varies from serious to comedic to tragic and how he balanced the film between the two leads, Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric.

Did you make a point of tracking down his other work after that first positive experience?

I wanted to see what he’d done before so I started working my way through Desplechin’s earlier work, starting with The Sentinel and My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument. I was very happy when the Atlantic Film Festival programmed A Christmas Tale in 2008 and it became one of my favourite films.

 
My Golden Days, directed by Arnaud Desplechin

My Golden Days, directed by Arnaud Desplechin

 

What is it about his work that speaks to you?

I love a sprawling melodrama filled with extreme emotions combined with a cinephile’s approach to storytelling. He sets up complicated films with great actors and captures some wonderful moments between the actors that feel vital and real. If you want you can take pages of notes and look for references to other films or literature or paintings, or you can just let the film wash over you and immerse yourself in the characters and situations.

He’s a French filmmaker who has also made English-language features. How do his French films compare to the English?

While his first English language film (Esther Kahn) was a bit muddled and wasn’t commercially successful, his second film in English, Jimmy P., brought many of the elements of his other film together in a simplified way. His English language films seem to simplify things a bit more and both have been adaptations of stories as opposed to his French films which have been original screenplays dealing with characters and a social milieu that seems to be quite close to that of Desplechin himself.

My Golden Days is a prequel to My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument. How much appeal does him doing a prequel offer to you?

It’s appealing to have him revisit ideas he set out to explore with the benefit of experience and a different cast. The challenge of working with a younger and newer cast after developing a stable or regular actors should bring a new energy too.

Like Woody Allen, Desplechin has been accused of bringing a bit of autobiography in his work, to the point where it’s gotten him in trouble. What do you make of his mining personal experience in his films?

I’m not sure how much autobiography there is in his films, but there are themes and situations and places that recur, so whether they’re autobiographical or not, it’s pretty clear what he’s concerned about as he returns often to them. Large and complex families, strained personal relationships, and emotionally fragile characters who seek answers and happiness through other people, psychoanalysis, sex, and trying to determine who they are. All that could be saying something about the person who tells those stories.

 
 

My Golden Days screens on Friday, April 15 at 7pm. Go to the events page for more information on the film.

Chris Campbell writes a blog on film—go here for more of his thoughts on Arnaud Desplechin.