My Golden Days
(Arnaud Desplechin, 2015)
In a manner, I was introduced to Arnaud Desplechin through John Magary’s The Mend. Magary has cited Desplechin as an influence and despite my awareness of the Frenchman, I’ve never actually corrected the cinematic blindspot until now. But I’m glad I was given the informal introduction through Magary, if only because it allowed me to prepare for the immediate sense of disorientation that was a staple of The Mend. In My Golden Days, a coming-of-age story told with great éclat, a sense of bafflement immediately pervades the opening of the film, as Desplechin follows a middle-age man named Paul Dédalus (Mathieu Amalric) as he prepares to return to Paris. Desplechin lingers on Paul’s memory as he reflects on the moment in his childhood when he lost his mother only to then reposition the film on a moment when Paul aided a friend in smuggling passports to Russian Jews. It all comes across as unwieldy and tonally dissonant, with one sequence bleeding into another with nothing but a piece of text (1. Childhood, 2. Russia) indicating a narrative transition.
It becomes clear why Desplechin doesn’t linger on these moments later in the film, and instead highlights Paul’s most fond memory: that of Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet). Paul, as an adolescent (played by Quentin Dolmaire), is smitten by Esther’s brash arrogance and soon the film discovers its central narrative concern. Yet this story of love-struck impetuousness never comes across as trite or overwrought. It’s wild and infectious in large part because of the manner in which Desplechin positions the narrative. We never lose sight of the fact that Amalric’s Paul is the one reflecting on this memory as something most cherished and unrealized, and because of that the tumultuous relationship between Esther and Paul is tinged in melancholia. The film never feels oppressive or detached, but rather engages with this memory with fond warmth. This is because of Desplechin’s visual acuity: from his rapid deployment split screens, iris shots, and deconstruction of the fourth wall, Desplechin’s playfulness goes a long way in enveloping you in a memory that may not be your own. He positions you in a way that makes these moments resonate for their emotion if not their specifics, and that makes the picture’s spell all the more potent.