Giannoli’s adaptation of La Comédie Humaine is a gloomy critique of art and the press
Xavier Giannoli depicts capitalist greed fueling the journalism industry in nineteenth-century France in his compelling 2021 adaptation of Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine. The film centers around a young, hopeful poet, Lucien de Rubempré (Benjamin Voisin,) who ventures to Paris — a bustling city filled with economic opportunity, art, and political buzz. He looks for editors willing to publish his book of poems, but soon discovers that it takes notoriety to get published.
There, he meets Étienne Lousteau (Vincent Lacoste), who works for the journal Le Corsaire. Lousteau introduces Rubempré to a life of excess and insincerity. Despite Rupembré’s initial search for literary beauty and art, he falls into the world of journalistic art criticism, fuelled by capitalist interests, exposing the superficiality of the art industry. Everything is bought for a price, from the reviews to the casting, and even the applause at the theatre. Controversy sells, and ultimately, it is exciting rivalries that make the artists money. As a result, we question whether there exists a deeper noble purpose to art, or if it’s simply a cultural mechanism serving the interests of the rich and powerful.
For Rubempré, being a notorious journalist for scathing reviews is not enough. He desires entry into the noble class presumed to respect great art. But he meets tragedy when he shows ambivalent loyalty in front of the two worlds: the capitalist that feeds him, and the elitists who falsely promise him entry into the richness and beauty of the bourgeoisie. He dreams of grandeur within both worlds, and they ultimately prove to be illusions as he operates in bad faith.
Lost Illusions is an exploration of capitalist interests contrasting the elitist royalists of France. We wonder if there’s truly any freedom when we speak of freedom of press. We feel lost seeing that outside of Rupembré’s involvement in the corrupted private sphere, there is not much else to turn to except the illusory promises from the state. Both are depicted as superficial societies, engrossed in gluttony, status, and insincerity.
Can journalism ever be honest, or will it always be subject to either the bourgeoisie or the state? If the profits are not political, then they are economic. As Rupembré approaches his fall from greatness, we contemplate the economic and social barriers that shape our protagonist’s pursuit of art.