My Golden Days (trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse) is a quasi-prequel to Arnaud Desplechin’s 1996′ movie My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument (Comment je me suis disputé… (ma vie sexuelle)). It opens with a continuation of Paul Dédalus’ life as an anthropologist as he returns home to Paris from abroad, but as he gets held up at the airport and brought in for questioning on suspicion of identity theft, he recounts his cosmopolitan adolescence through a series of flashbacks.
I’ve never seen My Sex Life… and was unable to secure a copy of it, be it physical or digital, before I watched My Golden Days, and albeit there will always be movies one perhaps should’ve seen, we cannot get to it all. Thus, this review will be through the eyes of someone new to the story and life of Paul Dédalus, but not as someone without high expectations. As it screened (outside competition) at Cannes 2015, the one consensus coming from the festival was that this movie deserved our attention. I was floored by just how much I agree with this.
It opens with a depiction of a horror-esque confrontation between Paul and his hysterical mother. This first act goes by in a flash, and purposefully so, as it underlines Paul’s dysfunctional connection to his parents, while his bond to his sister, Delphine and brother, Ivan, is only made stronger as a result. The second act goes full-on spy-thriller as Paul and a friend smuggle money and papers to a Russian Jew during a school-trip to Minsk. The third and longest act is also its most effusive, with a plethora of focus-points, character motivations and ideas. But the pièce de résistance is the romance that blossoms between Paul and Esther, through its high ups and low downs, through their sexual awakenings and eventual maturity. The movie is unapologetically French, with poetic declarations of undying love, sexual liberation, and the constant cigarette that’s wedged sloppily in-between pouty lips. It could’ve been pompously sentimental, but Desplechin manages to make it a tender love story.
Mathieu Amalric returns as an aged Dédalus and is as brilliant as ever, but it is newcomers Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Recollinet who owns My Golden Days. Their chemistry is tangible and believable to an unparalleled level in recent memory. With their shared emotional sensibility you (I) fell in love with them both. You (I) can feel and empathise with their love, pain and fears; their vulnerability and their strengths. I cried with them them, and I cried for them, and while Desplechin’s formal decisions are immodest at times, they never become manipulative, which speaks volumes for Dolmaire’s and Roy-Recollinet’s performances.
As a personal account of his own life, Amalric’s Dédalus, can categorically place and communicate certain personal events in the light of history; as he and his brother and sister observe the fall of the Berlin wall, he solemnly announces the end of his youth. The U.S.S.R is dissolved, and Boris Yeltsin makes his famous 1992 speech (at least I’m 89% certain it was that speech.) This is not solely for historical accuracy, nor to posses an aura of historical significance, but because events like these will always imprint themselves on our personal experiences. It is a way for Desplechin to authenticate Dédalus’s timeline, and how his interests shape him.
My Golden Days is beautifully humane in its ability to capture the kinetic affairs of adolescence; the pseudo-rebelliousness, the total and unconditional nature of first love, the apprehension of adulthood. Desplechin is eccentric and playful, which allows the form to constantly compliment the story. Certain scenes begin or end with an iris-effect; giving us the impression of someone looking in, a voyeuristic exploration of someone else’s most private and personal moments. In one instance Desplechin presents different characters in animated split-screens, closely reminiscent of Xavier Dolan’s playfulness with aspect ratio in Mommy and Tom at the Farm – both in terms of form and effect. He also breaks the fourth wall in different ways, one of which depicts Esther reading a letter correspondence directly at us, her allure highlighted through a soft-focus and delicate lightning.
This allure, and her effect on Paul and other men around her, is something Esther is fully aware of and use in perfect harmony with the movie to orchestrate a mythological air around herself. While this is effectively Paul’s story, it is Esther who owns it. She is put on a pedestal, as much by her own design as by Paul’s nostalgic reminiscence, but the romanticised version never takes away from the fact that she is fully realised, and completely her own person.
My Golden Days may be a “prequel,” but as my reaction to the film suggests, it is absolutely possible to connect with it sans-My Sex Life… Perhaps there’s some loss to it, some added nostalgia or sense of revelatory catharsis one cannot fully appreciate without knowing the story of Dédalus and Esther from before, but that is of no consequence to the overall experience. There’s a playful concept of identities in the movie, and with the suspected identity theft – there’s supposedly another Paul Dédalus out there – it is as if the movie purposefully allows new audiences to project this younger Dédalus on a blank canvas; like he is another individual entirely, someone new for us to connect with.