The Paris nightclub Le Palace, which had its heyday in the 1980s, has taken on mythic status in the French imagination in the way that Studio 54 did in the United States. Now we have an autobiographical film, Une Jeunesse Dorée (Golden Youth), made by one who was there, Eva Ionesco.
The film starts with a beautiful 16-year-old girl, Rose (Galatea Bellugi), who lives in a government-run home for minors, being released in the care of a “responsible” young man, Michel (played by Ionesco’s son, Lukas), who shows up at the institution to fetch her wearing angel’s wings (get it?).
The next thing you know, they are at Le Palace, dancing wildly with their friends (based on Ionesco’s real-life buddies at the time, among them shoe designer Christian Louboutin and journalist Alain Pacadis), all of them in highly colorful fancy dress. Rose is madly in love with Michel, a budding artist, but their romantic idyll is soon disturbed by Lucille (Isabelle Huppert) and Hubert (Melvil Poupaud), an extremely wealthy forty-something couple who lead a life of libertinage.
Lucille wants Michel, and Hubert wants Rose, and before long they have become a foursome, all living and sleeping and romping together on the couple’s fabulous estate outside of Paris for a very long, repetitive and boring stretch of the movie. That doesn’t last, of course, and the experience ends up destroying the relationship between Rose and Michel. All four characters find themselves back where they started, dancing and drinking and drugging at Le Palace. The film ends with a wanly suggested glimmer of hope for Rose’s future.
Ionesco seems to be aiming to create a Felliniesque tableau of fantastic characters, but the film quickly loses steam after a promising beginning and seems empty, with none of the deeply felt pathos, intensity and humor of Fellini’s films.
Bellugi is convincing as the voluptuous, temperamental Rose, except in a few emotional scenes when the director allows her to overact. Huppert plays a cold, manipulative bitch, a role she has perfected in so many films. The handsome Poupaud falls right into his part as a rich, cultivated dandy, but falls over the edge when he plays drunken scenes. As for Lukas Ionesco, his pasty, masklike face hardly twitches during the whole film, making it difficult to believe in his love for Rose.
When you know that Ionesco’s mother, Irina Ionesco, made and published nude photographs and films of her daughter in erotic poses starting when she was only four years old (Ionesco’s first film, My Little Princess, deals with that part of her life story), it makes the fact that in this movie Eva films her own son naked and making love to the actress playing her younger self even creepier than it might have been otherwise. And when you know that Eva, the model for Rose, actually left the care of the French social services in the hands of her older boyfriend and lived the Palace lifestyle with him when she was only 13, it makes it all infinitely sadder.
The music, by the way, is great.