Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
In “My Golden Days”, the French director Arnaud Desplechin brings us a coming-of-age tale focused on his most recurrent character, Paul Dedalus, once again played by the leading Mathieu Amalric. 20 years ago, the latter had embodied Dedalus in “My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument”, which is the sequel to this latest film. Mr. Amalric was also present in the 2008 comedy-drama, “A Christmas Tale”, but back then, the role of a very young Paul Dedalus was entrusted to Emile Berling.
Dedalus is a single, middle-aged French anthropologist who spent the last 10 years of his life in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and now is willing to return to France. However, at the airport, he’s confronted with the fact that there was another man in Australia who had exactly the same identity. Not surprised at all, Paul explains that this is a consequence of the political years of his youth, time when, in a very serious and committed way, he and his friend Marc Zylberberg, went on a school trip to Minsk, USSR, where they volunteered and were instructed to help Russian citizens to escape to Israel.
Paul puts his memory into work and progressively we are clarified about how he became involved in this fight, his traumatic childhood in Roubaix, and above all, the arduous relationship with Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet), the object of a penetrating love that sank its sharp teeth so deeply in his heart that, even nowadays, he carries its well-defined marks.
The unsentimental Paul, compellingly played by Quentin Dolmaire in the adolescent phase, guides us through the adverse atmosphere lived at home after the death of his mother, the peculiarities of his siblings, and shortly after, fixates steadily in the despairs and anguishes that entangled Esther, the promiscuous sweet girl who couldn’t bear any of the other girls - including Paul’s sister - and always felt vulnerable despite having so many boys after her. All of a sudden, she switches from highly sociable to depressively lonely, from confident to frightened, and from popular to dependable. Her emotional state deteriorates more and more with the constant absences of Paul, who was studying in Paris.
In his maturity, Paul’s incessant examination of his own mistakes also finds culpability in Kovalki (Pierre Andrau), the friend who betrayed him with Esther. The fortuitous encounter between the former friends ended up showing Paul’s persistent bitterness in regard to the situation.
Despite this demeanor, don’t assume that Paul had never touched another girl when dating Esther. There was Gilberte, Esther’s older friend, who had a boyfriend at the time but couldn’t avoid letting her skirt slipping down her waist whenever he was around.
As always, Mr. Desplechin paints the picture with delicate strokes, conveying that sort of melancholy that feels very French. He’s a natural seducer, sometimes reflective, sometimes just slightly expansive in its formalism. Occasionally, we can sense a rigidness of processes and an almost puerile pose that swings between artsy and pretentious, which may be the reason why “My Golden Days” didn’t fully work in my eyes and isn’t as enchanting as “Kings & Queen” or “A Christmas Tale”. While some ‘truths’ seem genuine, other seem too poetically staged, and Mr. Desplechin, who co-wrote with Julie Peyr, keeps struggling in the face of this reality.
Still, one can’t deny the intimacy and complicity drawn by the young actors, or the gleam in Mr. Almaric’s eyes when reminiscing fundamental aspects of his story - family, friends, politics, sex, and an unforgettable love.