Synopsis: Mathieu Amalric reprises the role of Paul Dédalus from My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument. Paul prepares to leave Tajikistan and reflects on his life. He has a series of flashbacks that unfold in three episodes. The first includes his childhood in Roubaix, France. He next recalls a student trip to the USSR, where a clandestine mission led him to offer his identity to a young Russian. Finally, he remembers University life and returning home to party with his sister and shifting circle of friends. Most of all, he remembers Esther, the love of his life.
eyelights: the performances. the sexy bits.
eyesores: the casting. the meaninglessness of the exercise.
“I felt nothing.”
‘Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse’ is the 2015 follow-up to Arnaud Desplechin’s dour ‘Comment je me suis disputé… (ma vie sexuelle)‘. Released 19 years after its predecessor, it finds Paul Dédalus returning to France after some time abroad and reminiscing on some key moments in his life.
Unlike ‘Comment…’, however, it doesn’t focus strictly on Paul’s dysfunctional relationships: it also finds him smuggling documents and money into Russia while on a school trip, and connecting deeply with a Beninese teacher who serves as a mother figure for him. It also revisits some of his friends.
Having said this, the bulk of the picture explores Paul’s developing relationship with Esther whilst teenagers – and that’s a morass of attachment issues, infidelity, lies, jealousy, depression and general unpleasantness. Though they’re not yet full of bitterness, the pair run hot and cold constantly.
For me, that was the least interesting aspect of the picture, as I found them genuinely uninteresting in the first picture and couldn’t have cared less to discover what made them so sullen. I was much more intrigued by Paul’s unusual dynamic with his mother or the suspense of his Russian adventure.
Though the first bit at least informed Paul’s character to some degree, the second one seemed ill-fitting. It sort of presents him as a hero in own mini-Cold War espionage story; to me, it was completely out of character for the damaged adult we met in 1996. Still, it was the most engaging segment.
The structure was a bit weird, though less so than in the first film; the focus was primarily Paul, though we spent some time with the other characters as well. But the picture jumps back and forth without situating us properly; it gives us three proper chapter titles, though it muddies them.
Sometimes there’s narration, sometimes not. Sometimes the characters break the fourth wall to read letters to each other. Sometimes we’re merely told the content by the narrator. Sometimes Desplechin uses an iris shot to look back upon Paul’s past, sometimes he doesn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason.
Characterization can also be unclear: Why is Paul suddenly a smuggler-type instead of an intellectual? Why does he confront Esther’s ex and just let him and his friend beat him to a pulp? Why is Esther proud and flirty at first, but later is depressed and neurotic later? What brought about this change?
The cast is pretty solid, though none of them can match Mathieu Amalric’s original performance as Paul – not even him, who returns for a shoehorned cameo. Quentin Dolmaire is okay as the younger version of Paul, but he looks nothing like him – he looks more like a younger Bob Dylan, but prettier.
Ultimately, ‘Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse’ is a perfectly okay motion picture, but it’s an utterly meaningless exercise. Firstly, it explores characters that are difficult to care about. Secondly, it doesn’t really do a proper job of filling in their backstory. You can take it or leave it.
Either way, it leaves you feeling nothing.
Date of viewing: April 23, 2017