Review: ‘Golden Days’ looks back on young lovers

Tom Long
The Detroit News

“My Golden Days” is so French it should come with a croissant.

There’s smoking (lots of smoking). There’s sex (lots of sex). There’s existential angst (so much existential angst). And regret, a smidgen of political intrigue, betrayal and longing for love lost.

There’s also a sense of wandering through a life. That life would belong to Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric), who we first meet as an anthropology professor, being called back to Paris after decades spent living in far-flung territories. As he’s returning, his passport is called into question; it seems there’s someone else using a passport with his same name and date of birth.

This brings on the film’s long flashback. We see a young Paul dealing with a mentally ill mother, taking refuge with a lesbian great-aunt, and then marching along in his mother’s funeral procession after she’s committed suicide.

Jump forward a few years and teenage Paul (Quentin Dolmaire) is taking a trip to Russia with a Jewish friend, part of a touring group. He is asked by some shady political players to deliver a care package to oppressed Jews there. He’s also asked to turn over his passport so that a young man his age can use it to escape to Israel.

So right around here it looks like this is going to be a movie about espionage. Except, it’s French. So instead it turns into a movie about — what else? — love.

Paul makes it back from Russia unharmed, and leaves his provincial birthplace to study in Paris. But one weekend he returns home and meets the mesmerizing and self-assured Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet). He’s smitten, she’s coy, but then she comes around. They become lovers, even as Paul is living most of the time in Paris.

He has a mistress, she takes on other lovers – again, because they’re French and there are laws that require such things. They break up, get back together, ache, cry and take on more lovers. And that’s pretty much the movie, until the adult Paul returns to Paris and we find out that he’s still yearning for the Esther of his youth. Ah, the agony of romance.

All of this is laid out in earnest seriousness by director and co-writer Arnaud Desplechin, and while the ghosts of teen romances past no doubt hover over many of us, after a while you might find yourself wanting to slap Paul Dedalus across the face. Dude, that was 30 years ago, get over it! Except the French probably don’t speak dude.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

‘My Golden Days’

GRADE: C

Rated R for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language

Running time: 123 minutes

At the Detroit Film Theatre