Lost Illusions

Lost Illusions is Mean Girls set in Restoration France.

It’s the early half of the 19th century, after the Royalists retake France from Bonaparte, but Napoleon proved that you don’t need the right blood to wield power, and you can’t unring that bell. While the aristocracy go back to playing their games, beneath them, every man is out to see how far he can get. The scramble to acquire money and status has reduced every social interaction to a system of bribery and corruption.

We meet Lucien, the main character, before he steps into this cesspool. Out in the provinces, this doe-eyed country bumpkin is in love with two things, art and a highborn lady. The lady in question is Louise de (my brain just mumbles at this point). Anyway, she has a January-May marriage with no real affection, and she falls head over heals for Lucien, despite him being a commoner, working on a printing press. Lucien is a poet and his writings steal her heart. Lucien is incredibly happy being with Louise, and wants for nothing. His soul is untainted by avarice, envy or regret.

And then her husband decides to put an end to things. Louise is sent to Paris. In secret she makes a plan for Lucien to join her, where he might be published and rise to a high enough rank that her affair with him would be acceptable, but that falls to shit, and Louise feels she has no option but to end their relationship, as otherwise she will be shunned from society.

In order to feed himself, Lucien takes up work as a journalist. He makes one friend and one enemy, Lousteau played by Vincent Lacoste, and Nathan played by Xavier Dolan (the gorgeous wee cupcake he is). Together they teach him the rules of the game, how the money goes round. Bribes for applause, bribes for reviews, bribes for newspaper stories. It’s a racket, and everybody must pay for protection. The ability to make or break people with the stroke of a pen increases the power of the company owner, who can leverage it for acquisition of more media outlets. A capitalist publishing oligarchy who can influence politicians, bankers, sway the masses. Sound familiar?

Although this is a period drama, this is not a ballgowns and wistful sighs churn-out. This is a very relevant film about fake news, distrust of the media, and loss of faith in traditional institutions and sources of authority. Lost Illusions brings the timeless nature of Balzac’s novel to the fore.

As Lucien gets pulled down into the corruption, debauchery, and the moral vacuum of the media industry, we see its powerfully destructive nature at work. He is not simply a man, but the embodiment of all the values we claim to hold as a society. His degradation is our degradation.

Thoroughly enjoyable watch, even before you get to Xavier Dolan in his sexy high collar shirts.

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