“‘Life is strange,’ Paul Dedalus declares more than once in Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days,” begins Variety‘s Justin Chang, “and it’s also rich and intensely personal, as we experience firsthand in this marvelously vivid origin story for the hopelessly romantic French academic played by Mathieu Amalric in 1996’s three-hour Gallic gabfest My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument. Amalric mostly hovers around the periphery of this feature-length flashback, taking a backseat to young leads Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet (both making a superb screen debut) in a roving, restless tale of unhappy childhood, amateur espionage and agonizing first love. If the result offers less of the manic volubility of My Sex Life or the dazzling cinematic experimentation of the director’s more recent work, it’s nonetheless ushered along by some of the most fluid, emotionally resonant filmmaking of Desplechin’s career.”
“The film is divided into three chapters and an epilogue,” notes Ben Kenigsberg at RogerEbert.com. “The first two chapters are short, dispensing with Paul’s childhood and recounting a late-’80s high-school smuggling mission to Minsk…. The third chapter, which constitutes the bulk of the movie, focuses on Paul (Quentin Dolmaire) and his courtship of Esther (luminous newcomer Lou Roy-Lecollinet). A magnet for every teen guy in town, Esther is nonetheless drawn to Paul’s idiosyncratic style. No one else has tried to win her attention by teaching her how to play the board game Go.” My Golden Days “crams a startling amount of humanity into 123 minutes.”
David Jenkins at Little White Lies: “Perhaps foremost among the vast catalogue of Desplechin’s achievements here is his fond recreation of ’80s France, a place where the disconnect between generations has become more pronounced and the prevalence of education is producing hoards of Yeats-quoting dandies-in-the-making who have their eyes constantly trained on the horizon. Using the occasional iris shot to emphasize the fact that the act of remembering is inherently cinematic, the sun-crisped, agile cinematography of Irina Lubtchansky places us in the past but always making sure we’re facing towards the future. The musical cues, too, are the stuff of drunken dreams, whether the left-field album cuts which soundtrack the laid-back lives of these characters, or the precisely placed classical selections dropped at key emotional junctures. One in particular when Esther arrives at Paul’s house party in slow motion, is a double-shot of pure cinematic sensuality.”
“All the actors—from Amalric, here in his sixth collaboration with Desplechin—to the entire cast of youngsters, most with next to no film experience, inhabit their roles fully,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “Even the walk-on cameo of French veteran actor André Dussollier, who plays a high-placed French government official, is highly suggestive and fully inhabited. But there’s no doubt that Roy-Lecollinet—and particularly Dolmaire—are the true stars of the film. Without their combustible rapport, the narrative would lack any tension, but thankfully their exchanges crackle with the excitement and callowness of youth and the naivety and certainty of inexperience.”
“Desplechin brings together a vast cortege of memories, influences and intentions in a very ambitious work which plays out around the realistic dreamlike reconstruction and playful exploration of genres against a backdrop of emotional wounds,” writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. “It is a patchwork piece, woven in the same way as we remember dreams, sometimes chaotic, often foggy, but always bearing a message from the subconscious, a land which Desplechin loves to traverse, just like Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey or Edgar Allan Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym in his adventures (two references among many others used by the filmmaker for his film).”
“[T]ouching, involving and very well acted,” chimes in Lisa Nesselson in Screen, adding that My Golden Days “heads toward a two-pronged coda that few viewers could predict.”
Updates, 5/17: Notebook editor Daniel Kasman‘s “favorite sequence so far at this festival” is a “walk home from a party, done during a dawn of pale blue and dusky pinks… It ends with a kiss so well earned from previous flirtations and from this tender walk in dawn, I really thought it one of cinema’s great kisses, so imbued by the chemistry of these actors and the attraction of these characters.”
“The film’s French title translates as Three Memories of My Youth, which better captures its ephemeral charms,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “I’m pretty sure My Golden Days works just fine as a stand-alone work; for those familiar with My Sex Life, however, it’s a bit as if Before Sunrise had been made 20 years after Before Midnight, using entirely different actors.”
This is “Desplechin’s take on the coming-of-age movie,” notes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club, “meaning it’s eclectically framed, staged, and structured, and cut with the Desplechin’s long-standing preoccupations with ethnography, the Cold War, and classical literature…. Set to a soundtrack of jangly ’80s college rock and old-school hip-hop, My Golden Days bursts with details of small-town teenage life in the pre-cell-phone age, but its teenage cast lacks the neurotic intensity needed to match Desplechin’s convoluted plotting and all-over-the-place style, with its iris shots, cinephilic quotations, inter titles, and idiosyncratic cuts.”
Writing for the BFI, Jordan Cronk suggests that “despite a third act focused on Almaric’s lovelorn Paul, it’s ultimately with Esther that the film’s interest lies. Roy-Lecollinet is enchanting in the role, her laissez-faire yet seductive poise providing crucial counterweight to Paul’s affectionate, occasionally unreciprocated pleas. When the film ends on a freeze-frame of Esther, the first-person imperfect of both films’ titles seems to suggest a dual meaning, that of Desplechin’s female protagonist not as simply muse but as parallel subject in this touchingly personal, potentially boundless chronicle.”
Update, 5/18: “Days is damn talky, verbose with love letters read directly to the camera, lectures on Claude Levi-Strauss and conversations about self-determination and political dissent,” writes Ben Croll at Twitch. “But there is a singular through-line that cuts through the heady talk, the discordant genres and the cigarette haze: Paul’s quest to make himself…. The resulting wash of ideas and emotions is not just a frenetic director throwing it all up on screen (although with Desplechin, that is in small part the case) but the depiction of insatiable adolescent hunger.”
“Magnolia Pictures has picked up all US rights from Wild Bunch,” reports Screen‘s Jeremy Kay.
Update, 5/19: Adam Cook talks with Desplechin right here in Keyframe.
Update, 5/20: “This is a rich and literary film, full of warmth and life and sadness and humor, loving all its characters without necessarily showing them up to be good people,” writes Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. “Welcome back, Mr. Desplechin.”
Update, 5/22: “My Golden Days might not immediately feel epic, but in the days proceeding its screening I’m hard pressed to think of another Cannes entry this larger than life,” writes Glenn Heath Jr. in the L.
Update, 5/23: “Using a traditional coming-of-age template as a frame in which he lovingly indulges in his well-honed stylistic touches,” writes Jordan Cronk in Reverse Shot, “Desplechin is able to breathe life into a tired genre while reengaging with his most potent filmmaking skills.”