“Lost Illusions” Review – The Hollywood Reporter
Several factors threatened to ruin my chances of profiting lost illusions, the adaptation by French director Xavier Giannoli of Balzac’s eponymous novel. Un: I was five days away from the Venice Film Festival and I was having a hard time getting rid of my jet lag. Two: That morning, to make the boat that transported me from my Airbnb to the cinemas on the Lido, I forgot to drink coffee. Three: The film is over two hours long. Four: Historical dramas tend to bore me.
Despite these conditions, I was completely charmed by Giannoli’s film. With its stellar performances, dramatic orchestral score and rich costumes and sets, lost illusions is a tale of love, lust and literary ambition that is worth it. Adapting Balzac’s three-part novel-series is no small feat – the expansive six-year narrative contains many moving parts. It’s a long, reverse hero journey (a young man leaves his small town to return unsuccessfully) that risks getting boring and predictable when translated to screen. Giannoli avoids these pitfalls by teasing and pointing out the thematic similarities between Balzac’s biting caveat and contemporary life.
The bottom line
Saved by stellar performances and lavish costumes.
We meet Lucien Chardon (Benjamin Voisin), a blond boy with doe eyes, in Angoulême, a small town in the southwest of France. During the day, he works in a printing press, but in the evening, he writes sentimental (and sometimes sexy) poems for his secret lover, the aristocratic Madame Louise (Cécile de France). In Angoulême, a provincial town, Lucien’s poetry is relatively well received. Louise thinks he’s a genius, his family appreciates his talent, and with that support Lucien knows it’s only a matter of time before he gets famous.
When the news of Lucien’s illicit affair with Louise becomes public, the lady and her young lover flee to Paris. The ill-conceived plan fails the minute they arrive in the metropolis, which is governed by a set of social rules radically different from those in their small town. It immediately becomes evident that Louise and Lucien cannot be seen together, let alone gravitate in the same Parisian social circles. Lucien, whose mother was an impoverished aristocrat, does not have the capital to associate with his lover and his accomplice cousin, but deeply influential, the Marquise d’Espard (brilliantly played by Jeanne Balibar). After a particularly embarrassing night at the opera, Louise tells Lucien that they will never be able to see each other again.
Heartbroken and penniless, Lucien must now figure out how to survive on his own in the ruthless city, and that’s where the fun begins. He quickly learns that in Paris, the capital reigns: everything and anyone has a price. Giannoli reflects this greed with an exciting montage of money running through all facets of society, including actresses who pay professionals to sabotage their rivals’ shows by booing or to ensure the success of their own performances by unleashing thunder. applause.
With the help of production designer Riton Dupire-Clément and costume designer Pierre-Jean Larroque, Giannoli is building a beautifully chaotic Paris. The director pays impressive attention to the details of the opulent dresses worn by royalists, the interiors of Lucien’s run-down first apartment, and the noisy parties he attends once he finds his feet.
Thanks to his first job, in charge of tables in a restaurant frequented by university students, Lucien meets the impetuous Lousteau (Vincent Lacoste), who hires him to write for a liberal newspaper. Our naive protagonist jumps at the opportunity to have his words read widely and convinces himself that this work will not compromise his poetry. In fact, he told himself, it will attract publishers who can then help him print his collection of poetry. More than anything, Lousteau’s friendship helps Lucien quickly learn about another part of Paris – one ruled by artisans with leftist politics and a bitter disdain for royalists like Louise.
Life begins to look for Lucien, who quickly makes a name for himself. He becomes a newspaper critic after threatening to pan (but then chooses to rent) a new novel by rising literary star Nathan (Xavier Dolan), and falls in love with Coralie (Salomé Dewaels), a sweet and talented actress.
Finally, the diary becomes Lucien’s whole world. Giannoli and his co-writer Jacques Fieschi use their protagonist’s involvement to comment on premonitory topics, from the death of critics to the dangers of a press more concerned with increasing shareholder profits than telling meaningful stories. Viewers will be delighted with the connections Giannoli makes, which reinforce the film’s emotional threads. It’s impossible not to reflect on how capitalism compromises individuals in contemporary life while watching Lucien relinquish his integrity for ambition and wealth.
lost illusions succeeds in large part thanks to a formidable cast. Voisin (the star of “Summer 85”) makes Lucien of exceptional quality, embodying the character’s growing thirst for status without losing sight of the boyish fantasies that drive them. The dynamic performances of Dewaels and France ensure that women are not just foils for the emotional growth of the young poet. We see glimpses, albeit brief, of what motivates their choices and how they stand on the borderline between ethics and social capital.
Even though Lucien’s story ends tragically and somewhat predictably, the journey to that end doesn’t seem cliché. This is because, although it is a historical drama, lost illusions makes the story of the young poet refreshing.