Fans of French director Arnaud Desplechin will be delighted by his return to form with Trois Souvenirs de Ma Jeunesse after his previous film Jimmy P was almost universally hammered by critics at last year’s Cannes film festival. Perhaps to avoid similar disappointment, Trois Souvenirs... was not included in the main competition this year, but in the sidebar Director’s Fortnight. Desplechin has also played it safe by filming the prequel to his highly successful My Sex Life… or How I got Into an Argument featuring the same character – Paul Dedalus – played by the same actor – Mathieu Amalric – only this time as a young man falling in love for the first time. It has all the Desplechin hall marks – flashbacks, voice-overs, chronological diversity, tons of literary and classical references – with a few more for thrown in for good measure – split screens, iris-view shots and scenes direct to camera. Billed as an ‘excruciating and glowing quest for time and lost loves’ it’s hard not to see this as a distinctly autobiographical film reflecting the director’s childhood and adolescence. Divided into three distinct periods, it does drag at times especially if you don’t buy into Desplechin’s highly romanticised vision of young love. But the youthful cast of unknown actors, especially Quentin Dolmaire as the young Dedalus, are superb and a joy to watch and the end result is an intellectual, challenging film.
The film opens with Dedalus preparing to return to France after several years living in Russia. On arrival in France, he is stopped by the police and told there is a problem with his passport. This leads Dedalus to recount to a menacing investigator (André Dussollier) an episode from his teenage years when he handed his passport to a Russian Jew during a schooltrip to Moscow so the boy could go to Israel. The episode is retold in classic, spy movie fashion and is genuinely tense and exciting and lays the groundwork for the risk taking, offbeat character the young Dedalus will become. From his escapade in Russia the next section of the film deals in depth with his love affair with Esther ( Lou Roy-Lecollinet), a precocious 16 year-old who sees herself as someone different and special. Paul is immediately smitten and over the next few years, the film follows the couple as they negotiate the highs and lows of adolescent passion.
Desplechin’s films often divide audiences into those who find them intelligent and moving and those who claim they are pretentious and self-indulgent. He has been described by some as one of the ‘new’ New Wave directors currently making films in France. True his highly-stylised films which shy away from objective realism are not to everyone’s taste. But if you’re comfortable with teen-agers who prefer translating Greek classics to flicking through bande dessinés then this could be the film for you.