My Golden Days brings to life the curious story about an archaeologist examining the bones of his past and rediscovering a history he didn’t realize was there. Able to see through the lens of wisdom and retrospect, Paul is able to see his mistakes and everything he has truly lost. The memories that the souvenirs of our life hold are sometimes skeletons better left buried, even for an archaeologist.
Arnaud Desplechin pumps My Golden Days full of classic French stylistic elements, ranging from starting and ending scenes of the characters past as a vignette, all the way to creating a sense of overdramatic, prose-filled existential malaise complete with silhouetted cigarette smoking and all. Desplechin uses every tool in his wheelhouse, many of which we have seen before in his films, like A Christmas Tale and Kings & Queens. He continues to show that he has a masterful understanding of comedic timing and dramatic build up, knowing just when the scenes emotional climax needs a laugh, a cry, or both. Desplechin also skillfully carves out fascinating characters by not sugar-coating or idealizing them but instead presenting them with warts and all. We are meant to empathize and relate to them because they are always on a level we can connect with.
This story within a story blends together so smoothly because of the adept attention to tone. This nostalgic coming-of-age story utilizes a different variety of tones, each specific to which would help accentuate the storytelling style the best. His teenage tale has elements of a political spy thriller, full of mystique and the threat of unforseen dangers. Without asking the writer/director outright, it is impossible to tell how much of his films are fiction and what amount is biographical. My Golden Days is not an anomaly in that respect, because everything Desplechin presents to the audience contains morsels of affection that are usually only apparent in story of a deeply personal nature. One such morsel in the film would be what we can only assume is Desplechin presenting his own political message when he helps refugees escape their oppressive circumstances with an illegal act.
Desplechin, like the actors he recasts in his films, has recurring themes. The most obvious theme frequently revisited is the ill parent. In this case, that takes the form of a mother with a mental illness he escapes as a child. The tone shifts and becomes one of childhood wonder shining through the darkness. It also creates a connection for the character’s affinity for developing close, platonic relationships to older, mentoring women. This takes place in his adolescence, which feels like it pays homage to the French New Wave. Desplechin shifts the tone to one of youthful pleasure and experiential examination, borrowing elements from Godard and Truffaut. It never feels cheap or like a cop-out, but instead, these stylistic decisions help explain the story in a powerful way that would authenticate how the narrator saw himself in his youth.
Aside from deep personal meaning, Desplechin also includes several references in his film, including Greek ones. Paul’s last name Dedalus adds a another layer of insight and foreshadowing to the character. This is an obvious reference to the Greek inventor Daedalus, whose cautionary tale warns about making decisions with the long-term effects of them in mind. This message can be seen throughout the whole story, but not as clearly as when you get to the end. Like his last name, it becomes something that Paul will have to carry around with him until his death.
Symbols and messages are meaningless if you don’t have a capable cast to bring them to life. This is where another elements from Desplechin’s past films come back into play. My Golden Days is undoubtedly anchored by the always captivating performance of Mathieu Amalric, who perfectly represents the adult behind the retrospective and introspective journey down memory lane. He is filled with joy, remorse and the lingering taste of bitter resentment for the past wounds that were just reopened. A regular in most Desplechin films, and a veteran French actor, he has the powerful gravity to pull the audience into any character he plays. Even with Amalric’s big gravitational pull, the other film’s actors are able to shine like the stars they will likely be. This is Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet’s first role in a film, but you wouldn’t know it by watching this film. Their chemistry is electric, but also shocking. They represent not only the heart of the film, but also the heartbreak that scars both of them irreparably. These career-making performances echo through the film beyond just their impact in the story.
My Golden Days may be a reminder of better times as far as its story is concerned, but it also shows that the golden days of French cinema aren’t gone or forgotten. Desplechin pays a loving homage to the techniques of the New Wave auteurs while also delivering a deeply moving tale about juvenescence and regret.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)