CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

The French reflection in My Golden Days

Anthropologist considers three crucial moments in his life, in imaginative, thoughtful and extremely engaging film

15 March, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet in My Golden Days

MY GOLDEN DAYS
Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
Certificate 12a
☆☆☆☆☆

A TV screen has the flickering images that were to change the world: a fall of a symbol of the 20th century’s most enduring Cold War signatures.

But while the demolition of the Berlin Wall provoked joy, a scene where French teenagers gather round to watch the historic moment East and West Berlin were again united has one telling line that sums up the thrust of Arnaud Desplechin’s imaginative, thoughtful and extremely engaging film. “Why are you looking so sad?” lead character Paul is asked as they gaze at Berliners rejoicing.

“Because it represents the end of my childhood,” he replies.

And landmarks in the memory – what stands out – is a constant and recurring factor in this film, which acts as a prequel to Desplechin’s My Sex Life…Or How I Got into an Argument.

We meet anthropologist Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric) as he returns to Paris after a trip to Asia. He is hauled in to be interviewed by secretive intelligence officers who have some questions to ask about an issue with his passport – and it prompts him to look back at three crucial moments in his formative years.

The first is his relationship with his violent and ill mother, and the second is about a trip he took with his school behind the Iron Curtain where he helped a refusenik escape to Israel. The teenage young Paul (Quentin Dolmaire) is particularly impressive and has an Everyman quality about him – there is something horribly honest about his youthful behaviour that is recognisable. The third act, and most dominating in terms of the film’s narrative arc, is his passionate, flawed, and beautiful love for his on/off girlfriend Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet).

We are taken along with the 19-year-old Paul as he hangs out with his sister Delphine, cousin Bob, and a gang of friends who veer from loyalty to betrayal.

There are moments that feel lost in translation – split screens, French teenage trends, and earnest conversations as if Descartes still had a particular hold on the post-68 generations – but, if anything, it adds to its faintly bewildering charm.

The affairs of the heart – be it the love of another, or an individual passion forged inside by exposure to art and culture – are central to every scene. A man in his 40s looking back at what shaped him is a powerful tool.

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