Lost Illusions – Film Review
Don’t let the early 19th-century French setting of this adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s serialized novel Lost Illusions fool you by assuming lost illusions is just another stuffy period piece that lacks modern sensibility. The unscrupulous journalism practiced by a post-Napoleonic generation of Parisian newspapers in the film is not too different from the unguarded reporting of genuine fake news in all of today’s media. There’s a distinct whiff of “the more it changes, the more it’s the same” here.
But rather than moralizing the disconcerting echo, this multi-Caesarized production chooses to recount shamelessly – with great gusto – how economic opportunity pushed this liberal and anti-royalist fringe of the Fourth Estate to bend the rules. It is this lucrative pursuit of the almighty franc that corrupts Balzac’s idealistic country mouse protagonist, Lucien de Rubempré (Voison, suitably pretty), a budding but failed provincial poet who abandons his intellectual principles to become the rock critic star of the French capital for a hot second. The bildungsroman structure of Balzac’s long three-part novel, published from 1837 to 1843, dictates that the ambitious young Frenchman will learn his lesson at the end. But what makes this concentrated condensation of the literary work so captivating (well done, co-writers Jacques Fieschi and Xavier Giannoli!) is the seductive way in which it celebrates the cultural zeitgeist. Yes, perhaps you should be appalled, not amused, when the simian newspaper office mascot dictates a review of a new book by simply pointing to one of its numbers. Perhaps the devious machinations of greed (bribery, blackmail, deception, and their hybrid variants) that fuel Lucien’s mad financial success should elicit something more severe than a half-smile. There is no point in resisting the exuberant attitude of this entertaining cynicism. In keeping with the ubiquitous narrator’s cheeky observation of that heady time in 1820s Paris, “Money was the new royalty, and no one wanted to chop off its head.”
Production values in most costume dramas usually excel out of necessity, but there’s a lackluster similarity to many of these films’ scintillating portrayals. the beautiful world. The more down-to-earth depictions of two Parisian demi-mondes in this film challenge this truism; they are so alive that they almost burst through the screen. First there’s the Galleries, a cacophonous, colorful alley where prostitutes and hawkers line up to openly sell their wares, then Crime Boulevard, a seedy Broadway of theaters playing bloody dramas for hoi polloi and the privileged. . The film culminates in a terribly directed (Giannoli, again) and edited sequence that takes place in this final room when Lucien’s gleefully amoral colleague Lousteau (Lacoste, who won a César) struggles on the evening of the opening to find Singali (Stevenin), the most feared man on the boulevard, before the curtain rises on a new play featuring the sleazy journalist’s mistress. The reason for his panic behind the scenes? According to the custom of the time in the highly competitive field of live theater, one of Lousteau’s rivals paid Singali to orchestrate his slap of professional spectators to humiliate the players with boos and whistles (and perhaps a tomato or two), and the only way to avoid a disastrous start is to shell out a higher fee to the provocateur in exchange for applause and a standing ovation. It may have been the way to ensure rave reviews two centuries ago, but in these more civilized times, lost illusions deserves this praise simply because of its commendable merits.