“Has anyone ever loved you more than life? That’s how I will love you,” says Paul Dédalus (Quentin Dolmaire) as he turns to leave the home of his love interest, Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet). The sun is already out, and the two have just kissed for the first time. Mere hours before, she attended a party he threw solely to see her; he, lacking confidence, pretended to ignore her as she danced with other men. When she picked up her jacket, he picked up his courage and offered her a walk back home.
This tender scene comprises just a snippet of “Trois Souvenirs de ma Jeunesse” (My Golden Days), the original French title of which translates to “Three Memories of my Youth.” Besides the love story, the other two “memories” involve the early death of Paul’s mother and Paul’s trip to the USSR with his best friend as a student. However, it is clear that for director Arnaud Desplechin, both childhood trauma and teenage friendship pale in comparison to adolescent romance: He gives the latter significantly more screentime than the former two combined. In fact, Desplechin is so absorbed in Paul and Esther’s love story that he seems completely content with the messy narrative of the first memory and the simplistic—if not unabashedly sloppy— transitions between different episodes.
In this regard, “Trois Souvenirs” is not a polished film. But it is deliberately not so; rather, the film is intended to be personal and intimate. Much like a story told by a close friend, it drifts here and there and rushes through background information when the storyteller loses interest. The style is consistent with the auteur tradition of French cinema, in which directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut have famously parted from the rules of classical cinema in search of a more personal, earnest means of filmmaking. In the case of “Trois Souvenirs” in particular, the story follows a group of young people who draw agency from their carefree ignorance of the rules. The whimsical style thus suits the film’s content perfectly.
Desplechin allows himself much creative freedom and showcases his gift for innovative cinematic storytelling. Specifically, he demonstrates in this film a quintessential talent of great directors: The ability to capture a certain mood through sound and image. When Esther arrives at Paul’s party, the film suddenly shifts to slow motion, and the background music fades away. Esther, wearing a red checked wool jacket and scarlet lipstick, slowly removes her light blue scarf and looks around with weary eyes; although Paul remains offscreen, his stunned, ecstatic, tender gaze is strongly present. And when Paul first meets Esther, the screen splits unevenly into different parts, and a spatial montage is presented between all kinds of simultaneous movement—a car wheel rolling, Paul’s friends chatting—before finally converging to two images of the protagonists. Though audiences may forget aspects of the plot, these moments of brilliance and energy, in which feelings of longing, hesitation, excitement and anxiety penetrate the screen, sear themselves into memory.
The dialogues are also extremely well-written: Whether the protagonists are smoking on the sidewalk, relaxing in their rooms, or chatting at parties, their words flow freely. The conversations cover a variety of topics, from the relationship between the sexes to anatomy and art and religion, grounded in an easy wit and casualness that recalls scripts by Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino. When Paul teaches Esther Go and takes her to an art gallery, they talk about the game and the paintings with a mutual understanding of the subtext of their relationship. If the phrase “the art of flirtation” existed in the dictionary, these dialogues would be included as explanations. Even more brilliant are the love letters that Paul and Esther exchange. “Your existence is as strong as a mountain,” writes Paul in one scene. “It makes me and the world around me tremble, and that is comforting…. For as long as you exist, I know I am not alone, trapped in my dreams.” Such words, spoken softly and accompanied by the faces of the two lead actors—imbued with youthful sorrow and steely determination—serve as a reminder of just how beautiful it is to fall in love.
In a playful, exuberant, and fresh tone, “Trois Souvenirs de ma Jeunesse” tells a beautiful story of the world of yesterday. It is at once a midsummer love affair, a gentle goodnight kiss, and a secret lover’s subtle gaze to be remembered and relished long into the future.
—Staff writer Tianxing V. Lan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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