Arnaud Desplechin celebrates his life-long love of cinema through the experiences of alter-ego protagonist Paul Dedalus


Source: Cannes Film Festival


Dir/scr: Arnaud Desplechin. France. 2024. 88mins

Filmlovers! is a beguiling, bittersweet celebration of a life-long love affair with the movies. Arnaud Desplechin’s docu-drama is both personal and universal as he matches the cinematic coming-of-age of his alter ego character Paul Dedalus with the experiences of what Norma Desmond called “all those wonderful people out there in the dark”. The warm, inviting tone of the film and Desplechin’s use of a stunning selection of movie clips should make this essential programming for festivals, and hugely appealing for cinephiles who will consider it a must-see.

Essential programming for festivals

Filmlovers! is narrated by Desplechin and actor Mathieu Amalric, who played Dedalus in Desplechin’s My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument (1996) and My Golden Days (2015). Divided into eleven chapter headings (’My First Time’, ’The Spectacular Promise’ etc), it begins as a history lesson, touching on the early pioneers of moving pictures from the Lumiere brothers to Eadweard Muybridge, Edison and Louis Le Prince. The spine of the film is the story of Dedalus and his relationship with cinema, starting from when he is taken, at the age of six (and played by Louis Birman) to see Fantomas (1964) by his grandmother.

Other key moments see him sitting enthralled before a television screening of Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and, at the age of 14 (now played with immense charm by Milo Machado-Graner from Anatomy Of A Fall) - also lying about his age to gain entry to Bergman’s Cries And Whispers (1972). Later, he starts a school film club with a screening of Vera Chytilova’s Daisies (1966). In his early 20s, Dedalus (at this point played by Sam Chemoul) is a full blown film buff, enthralled by the work of Francis Ford Coppola and seeing every new film he likes three times – once to discover it, once to admire it and once to learn from it.

Strong casting choices allow a seamless progression through the many ages of Dedalus, whose passion for cinema is the anchor of a film marked by countless fascinating diversions and fizzing with ideas. In it, a cross-section of film lovers are asked to recall the first film they saw, talk about what makes them cry at the cinema and which films mean the most to them. Desplechin explores the impact of film in terms of national identity, the ability to bear witness to history and to let viewers walk in the feet of others. There are discussions about the philosophical and intellectual impact of cinema, citing the writings of French critic Andre Bazin and American philosopher Stanley Cavell.

Also embedded in the film are Desplechin’s personal passions as he tips his hat to cinema giants (Truffaut, Bergman, Scorsese etc) and the people and films that have been meaningful to him, from Claude Lanzmann’s landmark Shoah (1985) to the late Misty Upham, the Native American actress who appeared in Frozen River (2008) and Desplechin’s Jimmy P. (2013). Amalric himself makes only a fleeting appearance towards the end of the film but it is a key moment in the development of Dedalus (now played by Salif Cisse), and where his love of film might lead.

Beautifully shot and featuring wonderful clips, images, posters and memories, Filmlovers! is very personal to Desplechin but accessible to all. The soundtrack includes a rousing performance of ’Ruby’s Arms’ by Tom Waits over the closing credits, but the plaintive score by Gregoire Hetzel often hints at a sense of nostalgia in Desplechin’s search for lost times. This is is definitely a celebration but, in an age when endless content can be consumed on countless devices and the great cathedrals of cinema are closing, it could also be a requiem.

Production companies: CG Cinema, Scala Films, Arte France Cinema, Hill Valley

International sales: Les Films Du Losange.

Producers: Charles Gillibert

Cinematography:  Noe Bach

Editing: Laurence Briaud, Nairi Sarkisa

Music: Gregoire Hetzel

Main cast: Mathieu Amalric, Milo Machado-Graner, Francoise Lebrun, Salif Cisse