The Many Lives of Édouard Louis review: A deeply personal and immersive perspective from a writer

The Many Lives of Édouard Louis review: A deeply personal and immersive perspective from a writer


‘Who is Eddy Bellegueule?’ For Éduardo, he was a child he never became. The French writer found authenticity in leaving behind an identity prescribed to him and accepted how to look, choose and think in a space which he didn’t quite know. The new documentary The Many Lives of Édouard Louis, which premiered at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, tells the story of this French author through him. It provides space for the author to talk at length about a generation, about sexuality and identity politics, and the very nature of freedom through one’s work. (Also read: The Labour of Pain and Joy review: A revelatory and insightful look at childbirth practices)

The Many Lives of Édouard Louis premiered at CPH:DOCX.
The Many Lives of Édouard Louis premiered at CPH:DOCX.

The premise

“The obsession with masculinity in the working class was the result of social domination, of our bodies being all we had,” he says, directly to the camera. Director François Caillat’s camera stays at him throughout the crisp runtime of 72 minutes, as Eduardo takes viewers into a deep dive into his childhood, and how he found his voice. The young writer burst out in the literary scene a decade ago with The End of Eddy, a novel which revolved around his working-class background and how he felt vehemently disconnected from a young age. A sense of escape grew from the time he went to school, and Éduardo talks about this chapter in great detail in the documentary.

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Apart from providing space for the writer to remark on the personal and the political, Caillat’s point of view also shifts to locate him dubbing in the studio or simply taking a tour of his school, and sometimes the theatre work he has produced and starred in. In all spaces and corners, it is the author in conversation with himself (and in extension, with the viewer), and as much as it provides autonomy to the subject in the documentation of the present, pronounced through the shadows of the past, in this process, the documentary is also looking through him as a subject of study; emphasising his place, and his experience foremost. In doing so, The Many Lives of Édouard Louis proceeds to cut down the intent of additional reflections of any kind.

This decision works in stretches, yet it also diffuses the spirit of any intermediary that could have provided the documentary with a more tangible perspective with regards to the reach and impact of his work. As interesting and fascinating it is to hear the subject talking about identity politics, sexuality and dispossession, The Many Lives takes time to expand on these ideas through images and references.

Final thoughts

For instance, when the subject says, “The notion of freedom seems to me to be a form of class violence,” what can be addressed seems limited to the argument itself. One wonders if an accompanying image could have given more inventiveness to these moments. The structural critique rarely returns to ground the context with more images and sounds, appearing a little too constricted to the reasons spared by its subject. The documentary is a little too muted to place the spirit of confrontation and perspective of the subject. Still, The Many Lives of Édouard Louis works, following the author in a resolutely unsentimental and clinical approach. Which makes this visual essay of a documentation work in clear, searing immediacy.

Santanu Das is covering CPH: DOCX as part of the accredited press.

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