Just the other day I was wondering if we wouldn’t have a Love Actually on the billboard during the month of Saint Valentine this year, thereby signaling our definitive departure from the romantic, when suddenly titles began to emerge that responded directly to my concerns, dramas and ruses. On the one hand we have The Restless, from Belgian filmmaker Joachim Lafosse, which deals with love tested by a prominent painter and husband’s bipolarity, and a fascinating proposal now that mental illness is finally being talked about openly, no longer taboo. And then we have Licorice Pizza, with all the joie de vivre of the latest brain child from Phantom Thread and There Will Be Blood director, Paul Thomas Anderson, who visits adolescence to offer us a bubbly love story between two unique creatures, a fifteen-year-old whiz-kid entrepreneur in a league of his own, and the girl he knows he’s going to marry from the very first moment he sets eyes on her, even though she has a good ten-year head start on him. If you do go to see it, you’ll find yourself relishing in adventures that take place to the backdrop of the seventies, with all its peculiar fauna, catchy songs, and crazy businesses, like that of waterbeds. For added bonus, we get a beer-swigging barfly Tom Waits, Sean Penn in the role of an outdated and foolishly vain actor and Bradley Cooper, as Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend, in one of the most hilarious moments in this film that’s guaranteed to enamor anyone who sees it, despite not making a great showing at this year’s Oscars with only three nominations.
And galloping up between one and the other with fifteen César Award nominations comes Lost Illusions, record-breaker as the most nominated film in the history of the French Academy, and which also navigates the choppy waters of the heart to speak to us of love from a wide variety of perspectives. Our protagonist, a boy from the sticks, and his love for a local aristocrat, of the love that later bonds him to a red-stockinged actress, or his love for writing and literature.
An excellent and multi-layered period drama with multiple readings, complete with dangerous liaisons of the Stephen Frears variety and focused on literature, journalism, criticism, life on life’s terms, how to face the challenges as we trudge the happy road of destiny, doing so by unabashedly, fearlessly shooting daggers and pointing the finger at bad practices. Entering Lost Illusions is like taking a delightful journey alongside the young poet protagonist through literary and artistic circles and salons where real issues are decided, as he debuts in the jungle of life replete with all its pitfalls and temptations. This is 19th century Paris, but it all bears a striking resemblance to modern day society which, unfortunately, hasn’t managed to rid itself of the spine-tingling corruption of , “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”. Some films are born under a shining star, and this is one of them, after being launched at the Venice Film Festival to widespread critical acclaim and subsequently screened as one of the highlights at San Sebastian.
Protagonist Benjamin Voisin, who François Ozon introduced me to flying along on the back of a motorcycle, his hair in the wind, in Summer of 85, has a bright future ahead, perhaps even picking up roles left orphaned by the ill-fated Gaspard Ulliel, recently deceased in a skiing accident. Voisin has this immense attraction and certain ambiguity that allows him to play the naïve good kid or directly bad boy if he sets his mind to it. He’s joined here by a star-studded cast of household names and faces in French cinema, including Cecile de France and Jeanne Balibar who only get better with age, Xavier Dolan, that versatile director, enfant terrible, who also knows how to act, and the great Gerard Depardieu, who seems to have definitively abandoned any diet, and the only one of the group not nominated for a Cesar by the way. I wonder why that is? Could it be due to outstanding accounts with the taxman?
While chronicling the distinctions of Lost Illusions, we shouldn’t forget that, as is the case with Eugénie Grandet, soon to be presented at the upcoming edition of the Barcelona Film Fest, both films represent a return to the great writer Honoré de Balzac, who penned the sprawling work following the changing fortunes of a young poet whose rise was as dramatic as his fall and who, after having learned more than one hard lesson, had to face up to his disappointment. And I say sprawling because the original work spanned more than five hundred pages, small print, as was pointed out to me by literary critic Imma Merino who is rereading it, and which makes this big screen adaptation even more meritorious.
Recently I was sent a video of a French Minister, not the Minister of Culture but the Minister of Finance, in which he refers to the importance of books and reading, and in all honesty, I was green with envy, longing to hear a similar discourse here too from time to time, instead of vulgar politicking we so often have to endure.
And if Lost Illusions invites us to read more, better ourselves and to write, as it’s never too late to do so if one feels the need, and I also think, at least in my case, to correct mid-course and strive to be better people, then that’s something that could never hurt. It reminds us that not everything in this life can be bought and sold and above all, encourages us not to lose the illusion of going to the cinema to see a great movie.