On Friday night Carbon Arc was proud to present the most recent film by Arnaud Desplechin, My Golden Days, a prequel to the renowned French auteur’s My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument from 1996.
I’m a little embarrassed to say this was my first encounter with the director whose work has won a number of awards in France and internationally. For My Golden Days, Desplechin won a César Award for Best Director, the French Academy Award. On Friday the film was introduced by local cineaste Chris Campbell, who I interviewed on this blog last week about Desplechin.
After the film, the Carbon Arc staffers were discussing the elements of the film that felt especially French, and I had to admit that those kinds of generalizations about a national cinema are really broad and subjective, and certainly not meant as a slight. I have observed in the films of François Ozon the obsession with beauty, youth, and older men who worship younger women. These themes seem to be very much a part of many French films. Now that I’ve been exposed to Desplechin, I see the rambling structure, the innocence and anger of youth that manifests as bitterness later in life. Love as religion, and a dearth of easy resolutions or happy endings. All very much a part of the French films I’ve seen. So, I guess I struggle to shake off my biases.
I wondered what people from other countries must think of Canadian cinematic preoccupations. It would be a shame if all they thought, having seen only Cronenberg and Egoyan, that we were all obsessed with body horror or sexual deviancy.
My Golden Days is a lovely, moving film, one that manages to balance drama with wit, while the lingering takeaway is a strong feeling of melancholy. Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric) is an anthropologist returning to France after many years out of the country. When he arrives he’s stopped at the airport over a passport problem, which prompts a three-part flashback; the first, briefest, to his childhood and troubled mother, then to his teen years (where the role of Paul is played by the handsome Quentin Dolmaire) and a strange aside involving a trip to Minsk, and then the third chapter, the meat of the film, which is about how Paul and Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet) fall in love and sustain a long-distance relationship while Paul is studying in Paris. There’s an epilogue in the present day, where the events of his youth still resonate with the elder Paul.
The teen romance is a delight, largely due to the performances. Esther is the character that the film seems to hinge on—obsessed over by both Pauls, the older and younger—and someone who begins as a gauloise-puffing fatale, but later becomes an emotional basket-case, though nevertheless seems irresistible to the young men around her. The late-1980s youth culture milieu is terrifically well drawn. I almost wished we spent more time with the other characters in the story. They’re all a delight.
Desplechin is unafraid to use unusual visual tricks, including having his cast speak directly to the camera and the iris shot. Some of these techniques feel very old-fashioned, but Desplechin is nothing if not confident, and at no time did I ever feel like what he was doing wasn’t working.
Very little about the film is resolved, which really gives it a feeling of autobiography—the stink of real life. I wondered after Esther’s fate, and then remembered this is a prequel, that Esther is a character in My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument. As if I needed more incentive to see the film. I’ll be seeking out all of Desplechin’s features after this.
We only have two weeks remaining of Carbon Arc’s winter/spring season. I’m still hoping to deliver a few more profiles of the Carbon Arc volunteers, though they’re taking their sweet time responding to my inquiries. I’m also working at putting together that short film script. I hope to be able to tell you more about that in the next couple of weeks.
On Friday, April 22 we celebrate National Canadian Film Day with a screening of a Quebec feature, Our Loved Ones (Les Etres Chers), and that will be a free screening at 7pm. Then at 9:30pm, we’re showing an American independent film, a thriller called The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama. (That’ll be the usual $7.) Hope to see you at one or both of those screenings.