My Golden Days screens at 6pm on Friday October 2, and at 12pm on Saturday, October 3, in the main slate of the 53rd New York Film Festival. Magnolia Pictures will release the film theatrically in March 2016.
What Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days understands is that, since nostalgia is regret over the finitude of experience, there’s no reason that its feelings of romance and melancholy should only extend as far as things actually lived through. He’s ten or more years older than the teenage characters of his most recent film; even forewarned as I was that I would covet their amazing hair and clothes—indifferently on-trend and impeccably mismatched late Cold War preppy-bohemian bad-weather library chic—I found My Golden Days frequently jawdropping in its impossible depiction of adolescence, liberated and sophisticated and poetic despite its very teenaged structure of crushes, parties, studies and anguished visits home from university. Desplechin has always filled the frame with things he loves—walls are covered with postcards, Polaroids, faded family photos; posters and prints and paintings, mood-boards that both embody and wink at his neo-New Wave ecstasy of influence—and the world of My Golden Days, with its vintage paperback anthropology texts and retro needle-drops, is at once inviting and, because so obviously idealized, illusory. So complete is this film’s surrender to false memory that it even rewrites musical history: the end credits are set to an old-school hip-hop track, copyright 2015, which retells the film’s main love story.
In the framing story, Mathiueu Amalric reprises his role as Paul Dedalus (the name is typical of Desplechin’s throwaway allusiveness) from 1996’s My Sex Life… or how I got into an argument. A short chapter offers up childhood trauma lit like a dark fairy tale; a second chapter, lit like a thriller, explains how 16-year-old Paul (Quentin Dolmaire) came to give away his passport to a Soviet-Jewish refusnik on a school trip to Minsk, setting a second Paul Dedalus out on a globe-trotting adventure—creating an alternate self whose hopeful symbolic purpose becomes clearer as the film goes along. Throughout the third and significantly longer chapter, set in 1989 and beyond, the crumbling Eastern Bloc is also something like a shadow-self of the West.
Borders—or, more poetically, frontiers—are a frequent motif in the Desplechin filmography; so are iris effects, mental breakdowns, epistles read aloud by their authors in direct-address to the camera, brave and sweet-natured lesbian great-aunts, and dialogue so heady that scenes between characters evincing deep dislike or bitterness or despair towards one another remain entertaining for their density. It’s into that register which the film eventually settles, dramatizing Paul’s teenage affair, torrid with philosophical and psychological complications, with the moody Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet; Esther appears as an adult, played by Emmanuelle Devos in My Sex Life…, though My Golden Days works perfectly well as a standalone), from walks back to Esther’s home as the sun rises, to calls from Paris phone booths in the pouring rain, all the way to the slow, slow fadeout. Eventually, Paul becomes an adult. The film ends with a remembrance of things past.