In 1820s France, Lucien Chardon (Voisin), a handsome, ambitious young man from the provinces, dreams of becoming a poet. When his affair with bored, married aristocrat Madame de Bergeton (de France) is exposed, he’s forced to move to Paris. Rejected by high society for his uncouth country ways, Lucien eventually becomes a journalist under the mentorship of cynical editor Étienne Lousteau (Lacoste). He quickly learns the business is corrupt, routinely sacrificing truth for profit. Lucien then falls for alluring actress Coralie (Dewaels), but we sense all may not end well.
These days it’s rare to find a vivid, literate period drama with epic sweep; leave it to the French to give us one. The Balzac novel on which it’s based was dense, so credit director Giannoli with condensing it down to two and a half hours, which passes swiftly thanks to the film’s propulsive storyline, uniformly strong cast, and gorgeous sets and costumes. Voisin makes a compelling lead, but all the pros surrounding him, including Depardieu as an unscrupulous publisher, make the whole sumptuous enterprise gel. Have no “illusions” — watch this film!