Based on a true story, there are plenty of “issues” involved in Golden Years which is screening at Cinemania this year. It is a French film directed by André Téchiné (La Fille du Rer, L’homme qu’on aimait trop) which screened at Cannes earlier this year and is now part of Cinemania’s effort to bring films from that festival to the big screen in Montreal.
Paul (Pierre Deladonchamps – Le Fils de Jean, Stranger by the Lake) and Louise Grappe (Celine Sallette – Rust and Bone, Marie Antoinette)) are a young married couple whose lives have been turned upside down by World War I. Paul is on the front line and is a wreck. Well, more of a wreck than your average soldier going through the horror of war. In order to get away from the fighting he mutilates one of his fingers.
While recovering he finds out he is going right back to the front once he is better. Not able to handle that, Paul sneaks away in the middle of the night. He returns to where Louise is living with her grandmother (Virginie Pradal – Gigola, Tatie Danielle). Paul hides from the authorities who are looking for the deserter in a hidden room in the basement.
Living there and not able to go out at all is driving Paul crazy, but if he goes out and gets caught he will find himself in front of a firing squad for desertion. Louise comes up with an idea that at first Paul rejects then realizes that it is the only way he can go outside. Paul must disguise himself as a woman. A woman he names Suzanne.
To gain his confidence, he goes out late at night on his own. As he becomes more confident he finds areas (a place in the woods) and people who don’t mind what he is doing. They are free sexually and intrigued by the transvestite. So intrigued that he begins to make quite a bit of money to have sex with them. The Roaring Twenties are alive and well in Paris.
Trouble really begins for the couple after the War is over and Paul is found not guilty of desertion due to being a transvestite. His story is developed for the stage by a club owner (Michel Fau – Swimming Pool, Cyrano de Bergerac – 1990), but other than the show, he is now able to live as a man.
This unique love story is quite tragic. It examines all the lengths that humans will go to for love and to feel loved. Or so you think until all of it takes on the feel of the burlesque type shows being put on stage by the club owner.
Despite the rather modern sensibility of making a film which tackles the issue of being transgender or a transvestite Golden Years has a rather old fashioned feel to it. And that is not just because it is a period piece. Maybe it is the lushness of it all. Or maybe it is all the mystery. It just has that feeling to it that you rarely get with films today.
Sadly all this sensuality and ornateness sometimes hides the human element of the story. You lose the love in the sets, wigs, make up, and costumes. It leaves you with the fact that it is sexy at times, but mostly superficial. Almost like this is vaudeville show rather than the poignant tale of love and someone finding their true self.
As far as the actors go Deladonchamps certainly has the more showy role. He pulls it off well as he has a slight frame and sharp features that he passes as a woman. Though it would be easy for Sallette to fade into the background, but she is an integral part of the film. You really feel her struggle of being in love with someone who is unlovable in that they don’t want to be pinned down to one person. Her character’s pain is etched all over her face for all to see.