“Lost Illusions” (M) ****
BASED on a novel by Balzac, this film tells how, in the early 19th century with the French monarchy back in power, liberals were pushing for changing the regime or at least experimenting with new liberties such as parliamentarism and press freedom.
Coming to Paris eager to live from his literary skills, driven by forbidden love to a rich aristocrat, Lucien de Rubempré (Benjamin Voisin) loses his illusions as greed and machiavellian dishonesty exploit his naïveté and arrogance. Among corrupt Parisian circles, vices and bad habits, he has created nothing beyond a slim book of poetry.
In Paris, Lucien falls in love with Coralie, a young and beautiful actress, despised for her Andalusian ethnicity and her profession. Napoleon is no longer in power; press, critics, publishers, authors, playwrights and rogue courtiers are scheming to fill the gap and marginalise the bourgeoisie. For Lucien, this ambience offers unexpected stimulations.
Together with a handsome display of early 19th century costumes and locations, “Lost Illusions” delivers witty dialogue offering journalism as relevant now as it was then but with a rather different moral aesthetic. The cast includes Gérard Depardieu in a cameo as a publisher who can neither read nor write but has an unfailing sense of what will sell. Telling a serious story with that kind of pervasive comic underlay carries the whole film into an area that I and another patron sitting along the row agreed was rather good fun.
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