My Golden Days

MY GOLDEN DAYS, drama, rated R, in French with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

“I felt noth­ing,” Paul says on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in this chap­ter-book mem­oir of youth. The things he doesn’t feel are phys­i­cal abuse — be­ing knocked about by his fa­ther, or beaten up by a ro­man­tic ri­val, or run­ning head­first into a wall. The emo­tional stuff of his life plays on a more sen­si­tive nerve.

Paul Dé­dalus is the stand-in for the film’s di­rec­tor and co-writer, Ar­naud De­s­plechin, as he ex­plores re­mem­brances of his past, ze­ro­ing in on three mem­o­ries, and fram­ing them from the per­spec­tive of the present day. We meet to­day’s Paul (Mathieu Amal­ric, who first played De­s­plechin’s al­ter ego 20 years ago in My Sex Life, or ... How I Got Into an Ar­gu­ment )in Ta­jik­istan in bed with a com­plaisant blonde whom he is leav­ing to re­turn, af­ter many years abroad, to Paris to take a gov­ern­ment job.

“I re­mem­ber,” he says, and the first mem­ory, ti­tled “Child­hood,” is of night­mar­ish scenes with his de­ranged mother and his dis­traught, abu­sive fa­ther. He runs away from home, and takes shel­ter with his les­bian aunt Rose (Françoise Le­brun, who played the first ti­tle char­ac­ter in The Mother and the Whore, the 1973 clas­sic by Jean Eus­tache). The child­hood Paul is played by young An­toine Bui, who could cred­i­bly grow up to be Amal­ric.

More mem­o­ries are trig­gered when Paul runs into prob­lems with pass­port con­trol upon en­ter­ing France, and is gen­tly in­ter­ro­gated by an agent (the vet­eran An­dré Dus­sol­lier). The au­thor­i­ties are cu­ri­ous about a “twin,” now de­ceased, with a pass­port show­ing the same name and date and place of birth as that of Paul. This takes us back to a chap­ter set in Paul’s ado­les­cence, and a class trip to the Soviet Union that in­volves some youth­ful cloak-and-dag­gery, and a ges­ture of naive ide­al­ism.

These chap­ters take up about the first quar­ter of the two-hour film. By the time we reach the fin­ish, they will seem like a cou­ple of foot­notes — en­ter­tain­ing, il­lu­mi­nat­ing even, but an­cil­lary to the main event. Said main event is Paul’s ro­mance with Es­ther (the en­chant­ing Lou Roy-Lecollinet, mak­ing her film de­but), the love of Paul’s life, for whom the third chap­ter is named.

The ado­les­cent Paul and the young man he be­comes are played by a new­comer, Quentin Dol­maire, a tousle-haired, fine-fea­tured chap who doesn’t look much like Amal­ric, but could be the 21st-cen­tury in­car­na­tion of Jean-Pierre Leaud’s An­toine Doinel. The main dif­fer­ence be­tween Dol­maire and the ear­lier model (who was the on­screen al­ter ego of Fran­cois Truf­faut) is that Dol­maire’s Paul has a sense of play­ful­ness, and a ready smile. He meets Es­ther when he re­turns to his home town of Roubaix from his univer­sity stud­ies in Paris to see his younger sib­lings, Del­phine and Ivan (Lily Taieb and Raphaël Co­hen), who are still in school.

It’s eyes across the play­ground. Paul waits (in split screen, one of sev­eral cin­e­matic de­vices De­s­plechin uses) un­til the other kids have cleared out, and then makes his way across to the round bench where Es­ther is re­gally perched. She’s only six­teen, but she has a fully formed sex­ual aura that makes a per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment for rein­car­na­tion.

Paul claims to be tongue-tied, but his open­ing line be­lies that mask. “My eyes de­vour you,” he tells Es­ther.

“I al­ways do that to guys,” she re­sponds coolly. “I have that ef­fect be­cause I’m ex­cep­tional. You can’t for­get me, you never will.”

Six­teen? I would have killed for that di­a­logue at six­teen.

In fact, in some ways they’re both too damned so­phis­ti­cated for their own good. They fall pas­sion­ately in love, but dis­tance and cir­cum­stance of­ten keep them apart. They each take on a string of lovers — the ad­van­tage in num­bers, by Paul’s count, goes to Es­ther — and there is not much ef­fort made to hide these dal­liances. We see more of Paul’s in­volve­ments, in­clud­ing a charm­ing scene in which a woman he’s board­ing with drops her skirt in in­vi­ta­tion to him while her hus­band is out. We also see Paul’s deep­en­ing in­volve­ment in his an­thro­pol­ogy stud­ies, and his deep­en­ing at­tach­ment (non­sex­ual) to his won­der­ful pro­fes­sor/ad­vi­sor (Eve Doe-Bruce).

Paul and Es­ther fill the dis­tance be­tween them with end­less let­ters, some­times de­liv­ered di­rectly to the cam­era. Their sang-froid gives way to a des­per­ate ro­man­tic in­se­cu­rity, and their des­tinies, as we know from the out­set they must, drift apart.

The film cir­cles back at the end to the present-day Paul, and gives Amal­ric a re­mark­able scene of fierce in­ten­sity that knocks the film clear out of its tracks, in a pos­i­tive way. We are made, De­s­plechin seems to be say­ing, of all the ex­pe­ri­ences, good and bad, that we have ac­cu­mu­lated along the way. Those pas­sions and ec­stasies and heart­breaks may be car­ried deep, but they’re in there, and they may burst forth when least ex­pected. — Jonathan Richards

Belles let­tres: Quentin Dol­maire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet

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