Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse
Written by Arnaud Desplechin & Julie Peyr
Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
Watched on 28.10.2015
“Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse”, while nice, didn’t really feel in any way revolutionary and/or special to me. It tells a story about growing up and first love, and even though it’s the specific story of Paul and Esther, like with all (good) similar films, there are certain scenes, situations, emotions etc. that I think that everyone who’s ever been young and/or in love should be able to identify with. I know I was. And it made me equally nostalgic and regretful, and just a little sad. And yes, in this case, that’s a good thing. However, ultimately, I think my feelings had probably more to do with myself than with the movie itself – since movies, like all art, are ultimately in the eye of the beholder, and what we see in them is very much going to depend on who’s looking at them.
————————————— SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD —————————————
“Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse”, as the title suggest, tells three stories of varied length from Pauls life. All of them are framed within a fourth story, which depicts Paul returning to Paris after living abroad for a very long time. Understandably, this brings back certain memories. The first is from his early childhood, and it’s nice, but ultimately too short to really leave any kind of impression. The second one is a tale that while quite interesting and entertaining, seems a little weird and out of place in this movie. It was entertaining in itself, but didn’t really gel with the other stories. The third one, which also takes up most of the running time, definitely is the heart and soul of the movie, and it’s also where the best, but unfortunately also some of the worst scenes and/or elements of “Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse” can be found. I loved the depiction of Esther and Paul, how he’s – quite understandably – falling for her. It’s not just her beauty, but also her radiance, her (sexual) matureness and her seemingly infinite self-confidence. On the other hand, Paul is quite handsome and charming himself, so it’s also understandable why she’d give him a chance. Ultimately, they fall in love with each other, and even though for both of them it’s not their first relationship, it nevertheless very much feels like it’s their first real love. And to see what it does to them and where it ultimately leads was both fascinating and devastating. During their relationship, it seems like they totally switch personality. Esther suddenly gets very clingy and seems totally dependent on Paul, not really being able to function anymore if he’s not by her side. Paul, on the other hand, seems to be less and less interested, increasingly seeking – and, thanks to their open relationship, enjoying – his freedom. Both Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet play their roles – and their transformation – incredibly well, and especially Lou is extremely believable on both (polar opposite) sides of her character.
Unfortunately, it also was during this development where the movie ultimately kinda lost me. And no, that has nothing to do with the letters they write each other and which are spoken to directly into the camera (for some I guess it broke the fourth wall, but it worked for me, since it made it seem more intimate). Rather, it was during this part of the movie where I lost all sympathy for Paul. He must have seen how she was totally dependent on him, but he never really did anything to deal with this situation, instead leaving her in the lurch. She got worse and worse, and he got better and better, and ultimately didn’t seem to care about her at all anymore. Which really made it impossible for me to root for him, or for them as a couple. Now I’m not saying that he should have stayed with her because she had the feeling that she couldn’t live without him anymore. As understandable as this sort of feeling is when you’re in love for the first time – and to a certain extent, I think we all have experienced it – in this intensity it was quite unhealthy. And you can’t force someone to stay with you and kinda make him (or her) responsible for your life and your wellbeing. That’s emotional blackmail of the worst kind. But he either didn’t seem to be aware of this situation, or he simply didn’t care – and I can’t decide which one’s worse. If he didn’t want to be with her anymore, and his actions didn’t really give me the impression that he was, he at least should have had the guts to set her free. That, however, wasn’t even the worst thing yet. But to then rebuke Esther and his best friend for ending up together, that was just one step too far. And to add insult to injury, even after he comes back to Paris and meets his old friend, he’s still blaming him for that, even decades later not being able to see the error of his ways. Which made it very hard for me to sympathize with him. And, one last criticism: The movie could have dealt a little bit more with Esthers relationship to his friends and family. For example, it’s said repeatedly that Esther got the impression that his sister and father hated her. However, at least I was never really able to see it. We were told, but not shown, and even now I couldn’t tell you if it was supposed to be real, or a misconception on her part. That could have been a little clearer.
Overall, I didn’t much care for the first two segments, as well as the framing device. The third story about Esther was by far the best one, but even that wasn’t completely without its faults, the biggest one being that Paul made an increasingly dickish impression on me, thus I felt actually quite happy when she finally managed to free herself from him. And even though that may very well be a realistic depiction of certain relationships, it made it difficult for me to really get emotionally involved, at least after a certain point. Nevertheless, there’s much to like about “Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse”, not the least of with the incredibly performances by its leads Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet. Plus, even though it tells a very specific story, there definitely were certain moments that had me think about my own past relationships, which gave it a bittersweet quality sometimes. Ultimately, though, I didn’t really feel that it was anything special. Where “La vie d’Adèle” completely destroyed me last year, “Trois souvenirs the ma jeunesse” only managed to move me here and there. It was ok, but not quite the cathartic experience that I hoped for.