Wednesday, August 31, 2022

French Movie Mercredi: Les Illusions Perdus (Lost Illusions) (2021)


Lost Illusions, a 2021 film based on a novel by Honoré de Balzac, is kind of a classic French art-house-period-piece, set in the 19th century among both high and low society, about an up-and-comer from the provinces who's trying to make it not just in the big city but in the biggest city of the time. Paris is a garden of delights, a hornet's nest and viper pit rolled into one- glamorous, treacherous, full of promise and full of sorrow.

Lucien de Rubempré, as he styles himself, is a lower class man and a poet working in a print shop in Angoulême- the sticks. He is having a passionate affair with a local noblewoman, Louise de Bargeton. They decide to go to Paris but are unprepared for what awaits them there. Soon, Lucien connects with a young newspaperman who tutors Lucien in the ways of the press- its dizzying levels of corruption, its power, the ups and downs that come with weathering the storms of Parisian life. Lucien falls in love with a young courtesan, Coralie, and soon her fate is bound to his.

I think what I enjoyed about the movie is the way the narrative is both so 19th century and so contemporary- how little has changed about the mechanics of power, the power of the press, and the power of the heart to love and to hate in equal measures. It's a good old fashioned costume drama but it also speaks to issues we care about in 2022 in ways that I did not find overly didactic or academic. The narrator speculates about the future of the press and you can infer commentary about the internet and influencer culture too.  There is a great deal of humor here as well as pathos and irony and while Lucien's fall may be preordained, it is still tragic. But he does have the chance to start again, and we are reminded that even that is a privilege that is not shared by all, in his world or in ours.

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