'Golden Youth' ('Une jeunesse doree'): Film Review

GOLDEN YOUTH-Publicity Still-H 2019
Macassar Productions
All glitter, no gold.

Writer-director Eva Ionesco’s second feature was inspired by her clubbing days at one of Paris’ most legendary nightspots.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Le Palace nightclub in central Paris was very much the city’s equivalent of Studio 54. Anyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol to Roland Barthes — who sang its praises in one of his essays — could be found on the dance floor, while concerts by the likes of Grace Jones, Devo or Iggy Pop marked a venue that became infamous for its extravagance and cutting-edge style.

In Eva Ionesco’s semi-autobiographical second feature, Golden Youth (Une jeunesse doree), Le Palace becomes the major stomping ground of Rose (Galatea Bellugi), a cherubic and problematic teenager who leaves behind a group home to join a band of flamboyant club kids, settling in Paris with her artist boyfriend, Michel (Lukas Ionesco), at the close of 1978. There, the two cross paths with a decadent bourgeois couple, Lucile (Isabelle Huppert) and Hubert (Melvil Poupaud), who take them under their wing and shower the two youngsters with money, drugs, alcohol and nonstop sexual advances.

While Ionesco, who co-wrote the script with her husband, the novelist Simon Liberati, does a decent job conveying Le Palace’s near-mystical draw during the film’s early stages, the rest of Golden Youth often feels like the long, depressing comedown after a night of hard drugs and hard partying. Lifeless and progressively dull, if not altogether laughable in places, the movie has the unique distinction of delivering one of Huppert’s least convincing, more embarrassing turns, which the otherwise great actress dishes out in an array of plumed bathrobes and sequined dominatrix dresses.

It’s a shame, given the rich material (director Anne Fontaine apparently has a biopic on Le Palace owner Fabrice Emaer in the works) and attractive production package, which includes lush and grainy photography by Claire Denis regular Agnes Godard; fabulous costumes by Jurgen Doering and Marie Beltrami; and electrifying tracks by Kurtis Blow, Johnny Thunders, Human League and other hitmakers from the epoch. Whether this will help Golden Youth bloom abroad is another question, although an international premiere in Rotterdam may marginally boost its profile outside France.

Ionesco’s very personal first film My Little Princess, which also starred Huppert, dealt with the troubled and controversial relationship she had with her mother — an artist who took nude photos of her prepubescent daughter and treated the girl like a fellow grown-up. The twisted ties between adults and children (or in this case, adults and young adults) is further explored throughout Golden Youth, especially once Rose and Michel retreat to Lucile and Hubert’s massive country estate after the former has a run-in with social services. Once they get there, the couples start to drink like sailors, smoke opium and, after much hesitation, engage in a foursome.

“He has a very beautiful penis” is how Lucile tries to sell Hubert to the significantly younger Rose at one point, and it’s hard to know what’s worse about that line: the faux-artsy sleaziness of it or the fact that Huppert says it with such a straight face. Not that Ionesco is sugarcoating what’s really happening behind the mansion’s closed doors, and she ultimately reveals how much Rose and Michel come to be exploited by the older, richer couple (played, it’s worth mentioning, by two actors who are also 20 years apart in age).

But if we’re supposed to believe that these couples are living in some kind of drug-addled, exquisite utopia, then the director has definitely failed to convince us. There's probably nothing worse than watching actors pretending really hard to be drunk, high or having fun when they’re not. Or perhaps worse, watching a gifted performer like Poupaud (Laurence Anyways) spout all of Hubert’s pretentious garbage as his character edges closer to his one and only goal: introducing Rose to that beautiful penis of his.

Once Golden Youth leaves Le Palace behind for this tiresome four-way affair, the film starts to turn in circles and never finds its way back home. Bellugi, who was promising in Xavier Giannoli’s The Apparation, nonetheless does a fairly good job channeling Rose’s rage and desire be part of something — whether it’s the glamorous Paris night scene or the depraved world of Lucile and Hubert, who have lots of money to burn and bodily fluids to swap.

Supporting cast, especially the colorful group of party boys and girls Rose meets early on, is also rather convincing, and you only wish that Ionesco focused her movie around Le Palace instead of honing in on two of its oldest and least-appetizing regulars.

Among the background players appearing in and around the club is model-actor Alain-Fabien Delon, who, when shot from certain angles, could be a dead ringer for his dad.

Production companies: Macassar Productions, NJJ Entertainment, Scope Pictures, Diligence Films
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Galatea Bellugi, Melvil Poupaud, Lukas Ionesco, Alain-Fabien Delon
Director: Eva Ionesco
Screenwriters: Eva Ionesco, Simon Liberati
Producers: Marie-Jeanne Pascal, Melita Toscan du Plantier
Director of photography: Agnes Godard
Production designer: Katia Wyszkop
Costume designer: Jurgen Doering, Marie Beltrami
Editors: Basile Belkhiri, Julie Dupre
Composer: Bertrand Burgalat
Casting director: Molly Ledoux
Sales: Be for Films

In French
112 minutes