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ROTTERDAM 2019 Voices

Review: Golden Youth

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- Eva Ionesco’s film delves into her own life-story to talk about adolescent growing pains in bohemian Paris in the late ‘70s

Review: Golden Youth
Galatéa Bellugi and Isabelle Huppert in Golden Youth

Playing in the Voices section at International Film Festival Rotterdam and appearing in the International Competition at Göteborg Film Festival, Eva Ionesco’s second film, Golden Youth [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
is a teenage coming-of-age story set in Paris in the winter of 1979. Adapting semi-autobiographical material from her own 2017 book Innocence, Ionesco tells the story of Rose (Galatéa Bellugi), a teenage girl who has been living in foster care. She’s madly in love with her artist boyfriend, Michel (Lukas Ionesco), who is quite literally wearing a pair of angel wings when we first see him. Rose is presented as a young romantic idealist dreaming of a life in the arms of one man and making art. It doesn’t take long for this reverie to fall apart, as bohemian Paris soon reveals its hidden pitfalls. Ionesco shows how Rose blooms and comes to understand that the thorns are as important as the flower as she strives to make her own mark as a performer and develops as a woman.

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Ionesco’s well-received debut film, My Little Princess [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(2011) used a fairy-tale like setting to tell the semi-autobiographical story of a young girl, Violetta, whose mother, played by Isabelle Huppert, starts taking nude pictures of her at the age of 5. In many ways – especially as it’s also semi-autobiographical – it feels as though Golden Youth is a sequel to her debut, despite it being marketed as a completely separate entity.  The decision to make it a separate film has the benefit of allowing Ionesco to make use of Huppert again. Nonetheless, despite playing a new character, Lucille, there are a lot of similarities between the two women, and her performance here fails to match her turn in My Little Princess. Lucille is married to Hubert (Melvil Poupaud), both of whom put up Rose and Michel with the intent of breaking them up and sleeping with them. They also introduce their young prey to The Palace, the legendary French nightclub, where they meet various outré figures. However, Ionesco’s desire to emphasise the characters at the club, results in the occasional loss of focus on her central protagonists. 

In keeping with the fairy-tale aesthetic of Ionesco’s debut, Golden Youth has a baroque quality to it, especially in its theatrical acting style. It’s a choice that works because the film exhibits an implied criticism of libertine culture by showing all the characters as being hyper-real and full of artifice. While it’s easy to see how a young teenager such as Rose could become enamoured by this world, the director also wants to make it clear that Rose is venturing on a destructive path and needs to be wary. The downside is that Ionesco struggles at times between juxtaposing the allure of this bohemian scene and the destruction it causes. Many a director has fallen foul of the difficulty of showing boredom by being boring and Golden Youth is sometimes a bit banal in its attempt to show banality. 

The film was produced by Marie-Jeanne Pascal and Mélita Toscan Du Plantier for Macassar Productions and co-produced by NJJ Entertainment, Scope Pictures and Diligence Films, with the participation of Canal+ and Ciné+. The production also received support from the CNC and the Région Île-de-France. Belgium’s Be for Films handles international sales.

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