My Golden Days

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Arnaud Desplechin

Starring

Lou Roy-Lecollinet Mathieu Amalric Quentin Dolmaire

Anticipation.

This director certainly has his off films, but the good ones are sensational.

Enjoyment.

And this is one of his absolute finest. Such mastery, such passion, such control.

In Retrospect.

Don't be put off by the subtitles – this is one of the great modern teen movies.

This sublime teen romance evokes the heady passions that come from choosing between love and learning.

This wonderful film captures the formative adventures of tenacious anthropology student Paul Dedalus, first introduced in 1996’s Ma Vie Sexuelle… and played by writer/director Arnaud Desplechin’s regular leading man, Mathieu Amalric. It’s a prequel of sorts, subtitled ‘Our Arcadias’ in reference to the nostalgic sanctuaries of the past which only exist through random dreams and memories, but are often drawn out through the deep consideration of psychical artefacts. These can include poetry books, early American rap music, ugly muscle cars, academic textbooks or, most pertinent to this film, collected love letters from a time before mass electronic communication.

The story is split into three thematically intersecting chapters entitled ‘Childhood’, ‘Russia’ and ‘Esther’. The first is a short and simple recollection of youth as intoned to a semi-clad bedside companion, offering hearty context for the ensuing two chapters. Paul’s family traumas are laid out, perhaps explaining his ambivalence to immerse himself in relationships later in life. That’s unfair – he’s more a creature of love’s instant physical gratifications than he is of spending time and effort to nurture those pleasures. His father seldom appears in the film and has little interest in his son’s activities (nocturnal or otherwise). Nevertheless, Paul is locked into a path of passive Oedipal redress – he’s an ultra-charming refusenik who cherishes independence as a way to get the most from life.

‘Russia’ is an eccentric anecdote which is sparked by Paul being collared by French customs due to an anomaly in his travel records and the fact that he appears to have an exact double living in Melbourne. An agent played by Andre Dussolier assists him in remembering why this could be the case, eventually ushering Paul back to rare moment of youthful political inquisitiveness when he agreed to smuggle a parcel of agitprop pamphlets into pre-Glasnost Minsk as well as allowing his passport to be “stolen” to help a comrade leave the country. Dedalus recounts the tale with fond enthusiasm, knowing full well that his reckless abandon as a teenager could hardly be held against him now.

The final and largest part of the film charts the tumultuous, provincial love affair between young, up-for-anything Paul (played by Quentin Dolmaire) and the lissom local man-eater Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet), who is two years his junior. Perhaps foremost among the vast catalogue of Desplechin’s achievements here is his fond recreation of ’80s France, a place where the disconnect between generations has become more pronounced and the prevalence of education is producing hoards of Yeats-quoting dandies-in-the-making who have their eyes constantly trained on the horizon.

This is a tremendous film from Desplechin, all the more so due to the fact that he never once looks like he’s trying, or forcing, or declaiming, or contriving, or reinventing. Memory is presented as a form of natural magic, and the question of reliability is moot because the character of Paul has been sculpted as to be coldly rational and free of self-consciousness, yet totally trustworthy. Let’s wait and see, but this could very well emerge as the director’s masterpiece, so consummate is its dewy-eyed vision of love as our prime conduit into the past.

Published 15 Mar 2018

Tags: Arnaud Desplechin Mathieu Amalric

Anticipation.

This director certainly has his off films, but the good ones are sensational.

Enjoyment.

And this is one of his absolute finest. Such mastery, such passion, such control.

In Retrospect.

Don't be put off by the subtitles – this is one of the great modern teen movies.

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