Lost Illusions | Illusions Perdues (2021) Venice Film Festival

September 5th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir. Xavier Giannoli. France. 2021. 144′.

Inspired by Honoré de Balzac’s rags to riches hero Eugene de Rastignac who works his way through the Comédie Humaine, this lavish period drama charts a personal and literary advancement in post revolutionary France in a way that resonates with the media world of today, the clear voice of Balzac providing a guiding narration.

In the flowing tradionally styled screen adaptation Xavier Giannoli calls his main character Lucien de Rubempre and casts a dashing and tousled haired Benjamin Voisin (fresh from Ozon’s Summer of ‘85) to play the ambitious young social climber charting his impetuous progress through the ranks from the backstreets of Paris to the corridors of power where he comes up against the ruthless establishment of the salons.

Lucien de Rubempré is an aspiring poet from Angoulême who soon captures the heart of cultured baroness Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France). But his lowly social class causes a scandal, and Louise is cautioned by her beady eyed cousin, Marquise d’Espard (a beady-eyed Jeanne Balibar) forcing Lucien back onto the rocky road of Parisian grafting where he soon meets his rival Nathan (Xavier Delon) and the hard-nosed cynical journo Etienne Lousteau (Vincent Lacoste in fine form) who has found a way of financing his literary career through theatre criticism in the newly burgeoning tabloid press.

Lucien’s arriviste vanity and lust for life will eventually derail his dreams of lasting success, although for a while he is the toast of the town. Until then Lucien discovers the high life, champagne flows and the beau monde of Paris appears to be his oyster, Gérard Depardieu’s wealthy publisher soon signing the cheques. Meanwhile Louise has gone full circle in her spiritual evolution as a world weary aristocrat and beaten a hasty retreat to the country where she pines for her beau.

Meanwhile new love for Lucien arrives in the shape of homely showgirl Coralie (Salomé Dewaels) who becomes his mistress and confidante, her strengh and moral probity a much needed guiding light for the impetuous ingenu. And for a while the couple enjoy a meteoric rise as the ‘dernier cri’ of Paris through their hard work and genuine endeavour. But storm clouds soon gather on their moment of fame and Coralie’s  desire to keep Lucien in the dandy manner he’s not been accustomed to see the debts mounting up until all they have left is their love.

With Christophe Beaucarne’s fluid camerawork this is an opulent if rather overblown drama that could do with a trim here and there to make it a slightly more palatable watch instead of an indulgent two and a half hours. That said, Giannoli is worthy of praise for his skilful adaptation of what is an enjoyable and magnificent French classic. MT



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