Screening at the 2022 Glasgow Film Festival, Lost Illusions is the period piece romance/drama I desperately needed. This is admittedly not my favorite genre to explore, but every now and then, I find a movie that hits the right notes between modernity and tragedy. The last film of this ilk I remember loving this much was 2007’s Atonement. Director Xavier Giannoli captures the essence of Honoré de Balzac’s classic novel whilst carving out a bold new vision, complete with a phenomenal lead turn from Benjamin Voisin. For a film whose runtime spans nearly two-and-a-half hours, Lost Illusions remains harrowing all the way through to the poignant final scenes.
Bolstered by a zippy, informative narration that constantly pads out the specifics (think: Bridgerton), Lost Illusions plunges us into the world of kind-hearted budding poet Lucien (Voisin). Wealthy Madame Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France), who considers herself a patron of the arts, invites Lucien to perform at her chateau amongst the rich and famous people of the time. The 19th century was much different from modern day yet in so many ways, it remained the same. It was all about who one knows, and for Lucien, this opens the door for him in ways he cannot possibly fathom.
A secret affair is hatched between the married Louise and the charming Lucien, one that threatens Louise’s status in being openly associated with such a commoner. First appearances are everything when attempting to enter high society, and making things last in the shadows is sadly unsustainable. Lucien tries to make things work by traveling to Paris. Things become so bad after money is stolen from where Lucien takes up lodging that he is forced to get a job at a cheap restaurant to pay the bills. In his heart, Lucien still longs to be a poet. There is notable pining to fulfill his true potential that has only partially been realized. Lucien soon falls down a rabbit hole of journalism and criticism, as he drifts further from his truest desire to be a published poet. Here, Lost Illusions flourishes in its stance on journalistic integrity.
What is criticism anyway, when one gets down to the brass tacks? Nathan (Xavier Dolan) insists of Lucien’s articles that “someday they’ll wrap fish with this,” and tries to urge Lucien to pursue writing works that last. This is often a question I find myself asking. Would my efforts in writing reviews be better channeled in creating original works of my own? There is a cyclical nature to it all that calls for self-reflection in an urgent way. Squandered potential may be the greatest tragedy of all.
The constant narrative voice bolsters the characters, and broadens the story. When Lost Illusions gets into the commentary on the theater of the time, Singali, played by Jean-François Stévenin in one of his final screen roles, steals the show. This slimeball can be paid off by anyone for any price, even moments before he was supposed to enact a previous request. “Money was the new royalty,” and one could buy anything from Singali if they so desired, including applause, booing, and even throwing literal rotten tomatoes at those on stage.
I first fell in love with Benjamin Voisin in last year’s LGBT masterpiece, Summer of 85. Since that instant-classic, Voisin has been on my radar thanks to his stunning performance in that film. When I spotted Voisin’s name in the cast, I instantly added this one to my watchlist. I am so glad I did, too—the ending may have stomped on my heart, but I appreciate being able to watch Lost Illusions when I had the chance. I wasn’t expecting the deep messages about criticism and journalism, yet here we are. Lost Illusions is another exceptionally good drama featuring Voisin—the next time I see his name pop up, I will have unwavering faith in the quality of script he attaches to his name.
Lost Illusions screened at the 2022 Glasgow Film Festival.