Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse [Literally: Three Memories of My Youth]
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Writer: Arnaud Desplechin, Julie Peyr
Prequel/Sequel to: Comment je me suis disputé… (ma vie sexuelle)
Cast: Quentin Dolmaire, Lou Roy-Lecollinet, Mathieu Amalric, Cécile Garcia-Fogel, Françoise Lebrun, Olivier Rabourdin, Elyot Milshtein
Part of: Scope100 (last year, I participated in the Scope50 project)
Seen on: 27.12.2015
Paul Dédalus (Mathieu Almaric) has been living as a diplomat in Tajikistan for a while but now it’s time for him to return to France. His return to France makes him relive some of his most important memories: his difficult childhood with his mentally ill mother (Cécile Garcia-Fogel), a school trip to the USSR when he was a teenager (Quentin Dolmaire) where he engaged in a bit of smuggling, but most imporantly his relationship with Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet) whom he falls in love with in his late teens. Their relationship is tempestuous and often destructive, despite their love for each other.
Going into the film, I didn’t know that it was actually kind of the background story, but also continuation of the story Desplechin told in a film 20 years ago (Comment je me suis disputé…); a film I haven’t seen. This fact may explain the weird structure of My Golden Days but regardless, the disjointed nature of the three memories and the unsatisfying way the framing device is left didn’t work any better for me.
Trois Souvenirs isn’t a short film and most of its length is spent on the plot revolving around Esther. That means that the first two memories are rushed through and feel tacked on, especially since the love story with Esther is epic enough that it could have easily filled its own feature. Personally I thought the second memory was the most interesting, with Paul and a friend smuggling things to a Jewish family in the USSR. I would have loved to spend more time with that story line.
But Paul’s obsession with Esther leaves practically no room for anything else. And while I generally did like the unusual nature of their relationship, I sorely missed the female perspective in it. The two of them are hurtful, manipulative and destructive in their behavior towards each other but since we follow Paul much more closely, it is easy to side with him. Esther is introduced as a world-weary coquette, but in fact she’s sixteen when things start with Paul and I can’t help but wonder how much of that coquettery is bravado in the face of nervousness. Plus, in the end it’s Esther who is completely dependant on Paul while his treatment of her becomes continuously worse – and it’s at this point that the story turns away from Esther to focus on a fight between Paul and his best friend, leaving Esther as an object to be fought over by the guys.
That means that Esther – who started out as a promising and unusual character – gets taken apart by the story bit by bit until there’s nothing left of her strength or her willfulness. She becomes a psychotic wreck and the only place where she’s allowed to be an entire person anymore is in Paul’s memories.
That soured the film considerably for me, especially since the unsoured parts are so short in comparison. Nevertheless there is still a lot that I found engaging about it, particularly the cast. With a few changes it could have well been a film I liked a lot. But as is, I can’t help but be decidedly unenthusiastic about it.