For our first film of 2023, we invite you to immerse yourself in Paris in the 1830’s as vividly described by Honoré de Balzac and transmuted into grand cinema.

It’s the dawn of mass media, and the parallels to our present-day obsessions with celebrity gotcha culture are all too clear.

You can rent the film on the usual channels (see film details below). Then join our bilingual discussion on Zoom on Wednesday, January 4, at 5 pm.

Our protagonist is the young Eugène de Rastignac (who also appears in Balzac’s novel Le Père Goriot). He has landed in the metropolis from the sticks, and though his initial entry into the Parisian social scene seems to be going nowhere, he quickly finds a colleague who takes him under his wing. Soon Eugène adopts a new persona as Lucien de Rubempré (a name with aristocratic pretensions), and the possibilities for fame and fortune seem to be at hand…

Xavier Giannoli’s film is rich in costume and set design. The hectic milieu of the 19th Century tabloid publishing business is as fast and furious as that of the Ben Hecht / Howard Hawks films of the 1940’s. A.O. Scott selected this film as one of his ten best for 2022 in the New York Times, where he described Lost Illusions as,

“A breathless tour of the sleazy, seductive modern media system, in which reputations and loyalties are bought and sold, hype trumps truth and gossip makes the world go round. It’s early 19th-century Paris, but the period atmosphere only makes the present-day relevance more piquant.”

Here’s some extra reading: Balzac’s use of movement in the Rastignac novels.

Film Details

Original title / Titre originale: Illusions perdues (2021)
Running time / Durée: 2h29m
Genres: Drama, Romance
Directed by / Réalisé par: Xavier Giannoli
Casting: Benjamin Voisin, Cécile de France, Vincent Lacoste, Xavier Dolan, Jeanne Balibar, Gérard Depardieu
Stream it online / Regarder sur: MUBI, MUBI Amazon Channel, Apple iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Vudu

Lucien est un jeune poète inconnu dans la France du XIXème siècle. Il a de grandes espérances et veut se forger un destin. Il quitte l’imprimerie familiale de sa province natale pour tenter sa chance à Paris, au bras de sa protectrice. Bientôt livré à lui-même dans la ville fabuleuse, le jeune homme va découvrir les coulisses d’un monde voué à la loi du profit et des faux-semblants. Une comédie humaine où tout s’achète et se vend, la littérature comme la presse, la politique comme les sentiments, les réputations comme les âmes. Il va aimer, il va souffrir, et survivre à ses illusions.

Taking place between the years 1837 and 1843, Balzac’s classic novel focuses on the young poet Lucien de Rubempré, who leaves Angouleme for Paris in the pursuit of becoming an author.


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