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In Lost Illusions, a budding poet trades his idealism for fake news

lost illusionsXavier Giannoli’s hilarious film adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s acclaimed film 19e novel of the century, opens on the page. Golden sunlight shines through the worn parchment of a scribbled poetry notebook, landing on the face of budding writer Lucien de Rubempré (Benjamin Voisin). The young writer lazes on his back in a field, adding lines to his work, inspiration dancing on his beau face. The scene drips with pastoral beauty, evoking a sense of innocence and the purity of creation in that quiet realm away from the world where the rest of us strut about and worry about their time on stage. At the center of this scene of shimmering natural beauty is Lucien’s love for words, writing, beauty, literature – a love that will be challenged, tested and betrayed over the course of this astonishing film.

Lucien carries his chair to another spot in the field, sits down on it, and walks his pencil across the page, inspired again. “For Lucien, intones the narrator, it all started with ink, paper and the love of beauty.

Lucien is an orphan who earns his living by working in the small printing press in Angoulême belonging to his brother-in-law. It is there that he prints his thin book of poetry which catches the attention of an upscale beauty, Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France), who invites him to read his work at her home, surrounded by aristocrats. bored and dismissive. His boss thinks that Lucien is superior in talent and depth to his tasteless knowledge. “For him, poetry is a sacred thing”, she says, “a kind of intimate religion”. He’s also a total cannon, and inevitably an affair ensues.

When her husband finds out, the couple flee together to Paris, where Lucien dreams of finally becoming the writer he was meant to be. Her ambitions will be supported by Louise, who hopes to introduce her to high society through her cousin, the Marquise d’Espard (Jeanne Balibar), a woman whose seal of approval – or disapproval – can make or break. defeat a person. With the support of the marquise, her career will take off. But the naive couple quickly learns that Parisian society doesn’t care about anything, especially one that bears the maiden name of his mother, rather than the plebeian one his father gave him.

Lucien soon treads water – broke, abandoned by his lover, even struggling to navigate the chaotic streets of the big city. Then he meets a young editor-in-chief, Étienne Lousteau (Vincent Lacoste) who explains to him that writing the great french novel isn’t the only way to write for a living. Étienne is a journalist, a job that interests Lucien. But when he gets poetic about the role of journalists in enlightening the world about art and culture, Étienne smiles and says his job is to “enrich the shareholders”. And that’s all it takes to turn Lucien’s lofty aspirations into compromise.

Lucien lands a job as a book and theater columnist for a newspaper whose editor, played by Gérard Depardieu, can neither read nor write. Still, it dictates whether reviews will be raves or casseroles. From there, the film opens, revealing a world unknown to many of us, in which the original fake news thrived. Lucien, Étienne and their colleagues write positive reviews for those who pay – and crush those who don’t – for their words bought and sold by theater owners, marketers, politicians and other hustlers. In this corrupt system, applause is sold to the highest bidder. Truth is subjective. Lucien is a natural, speaks words at lightning speed, praising the work of the literary and theatrical elite ready to pay the big bucks, line their pockets and ruin their rivals. Lucian thrives. He buys a big house (on credit) and falls in love with an actress, Coralie (Salomé Dewaels), who believes beauty is worth fighting for and becomes the beating heart of the film.

But, even as Lucien’s star rises, a sense of dread settles around the viewer like storm clouds. We watch fortunes rise and fall, as Lucien and his colleagues destroy lives with the stroke of a pen. Could Lucien be a victim of the game he loves to play so much? He becomes too big for his provincial breeches, flaunts his success, incites jealousy, contempt, even rage in the people he needs by his side. He becomes arrogant, blind to his own vulnerability and to the personal interests of others, which increasingly clash with his own. Even as Lucien becomes reckless, consumed by ambition and greed, one cannot help but remember the poet of the fields, his blond halo of curls illuminated by the sun. We know he was once an idealist, that he treats his girlfriend with kindness, that he truly reveres literature and the potential beauty of the word. We root for him – even as the forces turn in circles, looking for blood – hoping against all hope that he will find the resources within to defend himself and mend his ways. We want to whisper in his ear not to trust anyone, to play it smart. But Lucien thinks he’s untouchable. Unfortunately, despite his successes, Lucian is still nothing more than a naive budding provincial poet, surrounded by vipers.

The dramatic rise and fall of Lucien de Rubempré is a harrowing tale that grips the viewer in its clutches, taking us on an emotional roller coaster ride, in which ethics and reality violently clash. Corruption growls, attracts and preys on those who lack the resources to protect their ideals and their souls.

Unsurprisingly, the film won seven Césars this year, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Most Promising Actor for Voisin. Rarely has a period piece offered so much energy and vigour. Watching it is a rush. It’s modern and timely. It rolls along at breakneck speed, each plot twist shockingly hard and fast, while deepening the complexity and raising the stakes of Lucien’s poor choices. The story unfolds exactly as it should, with every piece fitting perfectly into place – it’s called lost illusions, after all, but, even so, we are in shock, wondering what just happened. We could then sit in the dark with a stiff drink healing an aching heart, but take heart. Our hero is young, he is a writer, he is capable of great love. And, more importantly, he learned a few things about how the world works. Having lost his illusions, at the very least, Lucien will find a way to live again.

Lost Illusions opens in theaters on Friday, June 10.

Andrea Meyer wrote creative treatments for commercial directors, a sex and movies column for IFC, and a horror script for MGM. Her first novel, room for love (St. Martin’s Press) is a romantic comedy based on an article she wrote for the New York Post, for which she pretended to look for a roommate as a ploy to meet men. A longtime film and entertainment journalist and former indieWIRE editor, Andrea has interviewed more actors and directors than she can remember. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications such as Elle, Glamour, Variety, Time Out NY and the Boston Globe.