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NYFF: My Golden Days

Manuel reporting from the New York Film Festival with an improbable prequel among this year’s selection.

No one does brooding romantic despair like the French. Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, a pseudo-prequel to his 1996 My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument so revels in it that you could just as easily title it “The Sorrows of Young Esther.” And while yes, that title would be aping a German novel, Desplechin’s Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet) merits being name-checked alongside the most famous romantically bereaved character in all of literary history, and not only because Goethe’s novel, like Desplechin’s film, depends on the epistolary form.

Esther, who falls for Paul Dédalus (Quentin Dolmaire playing the younger version of Mathieu Amalric’s character from Desplechin’s earlier film), spends most of the time daring the camera to turn away from her sorrows, her tears, her despair, all of which she channels into the letter she sends Paul while he’s off at university in Paris. She cannot bear being away from him. Cannot bear her life without him.

Can you blame her? Dolmaire is beautiful!

In the press conference following the film’s screening last week at the New York Film Festival, Desplechin cited Moonrise Kingdom as a template he felt emboldened to follow and while My Golden Days is much looser than that Wes Anderson flick, there’s the same sense of an older filmmaker ably using a new generation of young actors to embody and ventriloquize the former’s notions of romantic love. Esther, Paul and their friends all have an affectation that doesn’t even aim for naturalism. These are literate, eloquent young boys and girls who behave like melodramatic adults; it’s no surprise the film has no time for actual adults, who might take one look at these self-involved young lovers and scoff at their (necessary) naiveté.  

True to its original French title (Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse) My Golden Days is an oddly weighted triptych (Desplechin described its three sections as a “poem,” a “short story” and a “novel”). This structural imbalance means some episodes work better than others: I particularly enjoyed the Cold War thriller-esque mini adventure at the start of the film. Indeed, My Golden Days is most captivating when it explores Paul as an ambitious young man hoping to become an anthropologist and leave his small town behind. By the time, as Desplechin puts it, Esther “hijacks” the film, it all feels rather heavy-handed, with Roy-Lecollinet’s expressive eyes and pouting lips existing mostly as a disembodied fantasy, a French “manic pixie dream girl” for the ages, an oppressively haunting presence an older Paul (Almaric reprising his role) still can’t shake off.

My Golden Days played NYFF this past weekend and was acquired back in Cannes by Magnolia Pictures. There are no immediate plans for a US release.

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Reader Comments (2)

It's opening in Montréal next Friday, the 16th.

October 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

I feel like lately this blog exists to disparage all the new movies that really move me.

And yes, I am partly saying this because I just came out of a "My Golden Days" showing and I feel like saying narcissistic, melodramatic things.

Ah well. I loved this movie. But then again I adore Desplechin. And I couldn't disagree more with the dismissal of Esther as some sort of manic pixie dream girl. We mainly (but not exclusively) see her through Paul's perspective, for sure, but there is so much layering and emotional density there, not to mention anything remotely pixie-like. And she certainly doesn't exist purely as a catalyst or vessel for Paul's journey. They impact on each other and we see that.

Tacking that manic-pixie of label on a (resolutely developed, empathetically presented, filled-with-contradictions) character like this is extremely odd and disorienting.

October 13, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

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