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November 16, 2022

Lost Illusions

lost illusions.jpg

Illusions perdues
Xavier Giannoli - 2021
Music Box Films BD Region A

There is a close-up of a man eating a pastry at an artistic salon. The scene takes place in a provincial French village during the 1820s. The French Revolution is well over and royalty is reasserting its place in all aspects of life. There are similar shots where the consumption of food takes place where a privileged audience is also consuming art. While there is no exact correlation, Lost Illusions shows both some of the roots of what has become part of mass culture and the similarity to some of the hucksterism that currently exists.

The film is based on the first two volumes of a trilogy by Balzac. I have not read the novels, but from what I have gleaned from other sources, Xavier Giannoli trimmed much of the source material concentrate on the rise and fall of the aspiring young writer who goes to Paris to seek his fortune. There is some off-screen narration by the man who would act as his nemesis and friend. What is helpful is that this narration helps place the story into its historical context, although some general knowledge of French history is useful.

Lucien Chardon works at a printshop in a small country village. As a poet, he has the patronage of Madame de Bargeton. Lucien wants to be recognized under his mother's royalty connected family name as well as making a name for himself as a writer. Both he and his patroness run off to Paris where their relationship is undone by the unstated rules of Parisian society. At a time when upward mobility was rare, Lucien learns quickly how to sell his skills as a writer for a small, politically liberal, newspaper. Lucien dives into an environment where class, money, and social and family connections mean everything.

Capitalism and consumerism run amok. Reviews of novels or plays are based on who pays the writer the most to express a bias one way or the other. An small army of paid audience members will applaud or boo on opening night. Everything has a price depending on the highest bidder. Nathan, the narrator points out how advertising was created to encourage people to buy things they do not need. For Lucien, he gets the invitations and the social standing he believes are rightly his, while maintaining a facade of being wealthier than he is, and being unaware of the unstated rules. While Lost Illusions takes place in early 19th Century France, Lucien's story arc has some resemblance to that of Sidney Falco, the columnist played by Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success.

The best known cast members here are Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, Gerard Depardieu and Cecile de France. The blu-ray comes with brief interviews with four of the cast members and a short montage of the film's locations. Lost Illusions won seven Cesar awards, the French equivalent to the Oscars, including Best Film last February.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 16, 2022 07:34 AM