Rewarded with seven Caesars and a surprise success at the French box office in 2021, the film by Xavier Giannoli offers a magnificent historical reconstruction and brings Balzac’s novel up to date. Here are three reasons to (re)discover it.
lost illusions : a sumptuous historical fresco
Directing a period film is not easy, especially when it comes to adapting Honoré de Balzac. Many would have broken their teeth there. Not Xavier Giannoli. For his eighth feature film, the director of Daisy (with Catherine Frot, brilliant in Castafiore perched) launches the sacred challenge of bringing to the screen lost illusionsone of the masterpieces of the author of The Human Comedy. And he succeeds brilliantly, recreating the teeming Paris of the first half of the 19th century. Here, the elegant Opéra, a meeting place for the nobility; there, the boulevard theaters, or the Palais-Royal, the pleasure district of the capital, where shopkeepers and prostitutes flock. Everything is impressively realistic in this meticulous fresco, justly rewarded with seven Caesars, including those for sets and costumes!
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lost illusions : Modernized Balzac
To avoid getting bogged down in a tedious and disembodied adaptation, the director made the wise choice to focus on the second part of the novel. Lucien de Rubempré, a young educated provincial who dreams of being a poet, arrives in Paris with high hopes. Left to his own devices in a world of which he knows neither the codes nor the shenanigans, he quickly yields to the sirens of journalism. The opinion press, however, has turned into a commercial press, where the slightest information is in fact a commodity. This is where Xavier Giannoli’s real tour de force lies. He manages to update the realistic and premonitory work of Balzac, by depicting the advent of polemics, pretense, and advertising (or rather “reclamation”). The “fake news” even already has a name: the “duck”!
lost illusions : a distribution of choice
In this cynical society, Benjamin Voisin impresses in the guise of this naive young man, triumphant for a time, but always overwhelmed by a devious system. Around him, Cécile de France shines as a torn provincial baroness and Vincent Lacoste excels as a journalist without morals perfectly familiar with Parisian intrigues. It’s hard not to also mention Gérard Depardieu (the “one and only Obelix”), brilliant as an illiterate editor, and Jeanne Balibar, impeccable as a manipulative marquise. As for Xavier Dolan (his magnificent tribute to Gaspard Ulliel marked the year), he brilliantly portrays Nathan, a character invented by the screenwriters. He acts as an eloquent narrator and accompanies the spectator in this intelligent game of dupes, this fascinating human comedy.