Paul Dedalus is at a crossroads in his life. He has to make several decisions; should he complete his doctorate, does he want to become a full professor, does he really love his long-standing girlfriend, or should he re-start with one of his other lovers? Is he avoiding the despairing life his father can't escape from?
Earning Amalric a French Cesar for Best Newcomer, this leisurely study of Parisian twentysomethings (subtitled Paul Dedalus' Journey) has its moments, but there are far too few of them to justify the running time.
This is one of those films populated exclusively by people who exist only in the rarefied circles in which directors with intellectual pretensions move. Amalric plays Paul, a 29-year-old teacher who can't quite bring himself either to quit his job and complete his doctorate or finish with the woman (Devos) he's been dating out of habit for the last decade.
While he ponders his options, he makes a pass at his best friend's fiancee (Denicourt), sleeps with a mentally fragile woman (Jeanne Balibar) who wants him to supervise her thesis, gets slapped off by his cousin's new squeeze (a woefully underused Chiara Mastroianni) and gets into a tizzy at school because a one-time buddy turned deadly rival (Michel Vuillermoz) has just been promoted over him.
What's puzzling is that there is nothing about this guy that would have these otherwise intelligent women falling over themselves to bed him. Amalric deserves much credit for creating such a self-obsessed loser, but here comes off second-best in just about every scene he shares with Devos or Denicourt.
This is definitely hard work. But every now and then the film flickers into something approaching real life. Desplechin clearly felt he needed space to let his characters breathe, but buried beneath the longeurs there's a tightly constructed 90 minute picture here just bursting to get out.