Sunday, June 16, 2024

A Slightly Cold Rollercoaster Journey Through Days of Happiness

With a haunting musical score that lingers in the mind long after the credits roll, Days of Happiness emerges as a meticulously crafted exploration of a remarkable artist. Set amidst the vibrant backdrop of Montreal, the film follows Emma, a talented conductor whose life is a symphony of complex relationships and personal struggles. Emma’s journey is multifaceted, intertwining her professional aspirations with the tumultuous dynamics of her familial and romantic life. As she navigates with a fractured relationship with her father, who also serves as her agent, Emma finds companionship in Naelle, a fellow musician and single mother. Against the setting of her role as a conductor, Emma navigates the intricate power dynamics of her world while striving to forge a new family away from the shadows of her parents.

While some may draw comparisons to similar narratives, Days of Happiness stands apart with its unique storytelling and nuanced character development. Director Chloe Robichaud masterfully leads viewers into an exploration of Emma’s psyche and experiences, encouraging a pique about the complexities of her character and journey. Sophie Desmarais delivers a compelling performance as Emma, capturing the character’s inner turmoil and resilience with finesse. Through Desmarais’ portrayal, Emma emerges as a somewhat complicated character with raw emotions and desires. As she’s journeying into the dynamics of her role as a rising-star conductor in Montreal, Naelle provides the solace Emma needs at the crucial point in her career. However, their budding relationship faces challenges as Naelle struggles with cultural expectations, family obligations, and the complexities of her recent separation from her ex-husband. Nevertheless, Emma swiftly forms a close bond with Naelle’s young son. Meanwhile, her relationships with both of her parents, particularly her strict and demanding father, remain unresolved, adding further layers of tension to her journey of self-discovery and fulfilment. The look in her eyes during their argument following a misinterpreted performance speak volumes. His admission of pushing her too hard, coupled with his acknowledgment that the market isn’t prepared for her prodigious talent, evokes a poignant mix of deception, anguish, and dismay in her. It’s a dramatic moment of realisation that she’s far ahead of her time, and the world isn’t quite ready to embrace her extraordinary abilities. Her mother’s tendency to readily side with her father in moments of conflict leaves her feeling both in the cold and perplexed at times.

At its core, Days of Happiness is a moving exploration of balance and self-discovery, using music as a metaphor to illuminate the dynamic of human connection and personal growth, reminding viewers of the importance of both self-love and self-actualisation. The film’s narrative unfolds with a graceful rhythm, mirroring the flow of a musical composition. From Emma’s orchestral solos to her intimate moments of reflection, each scene is infused with a profundity and sentiment, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in her world. As a rising star female conductor, Emma finds herself navigating the challenging terrain of a conventional-centric industry. Despite her undeniable talent and passion for music, she encounters numerous obstacles and preconception rooted in world-constructed bias. Relentlessly proving herself in a rather politically-charged industry, facing tests, scepticism and scrutiny from colleagues, agents, audiences, and even from her own lover and family.

In addition to mastering her craft and leading with authority, Emma must address the power dynamics and negotiate her place within orchestras and the industry. She faces the pressure to conform to established gender norms while challenging stereotypes and breaking barriers in pursuit of her dreams. Moreover, Emma navigates with the emotional toll of constant scrutiny and the weight of expectations placed upon her as a progressive woman in a highly sought-after position. She must strike a delicate balance between assertiveness and acceptability, facing criticism for being too monotonous in her conducting style. Despite the challenges, she perseveres with determination and resilience, carving out her space through sheer talent, hard work, dedication and unwavering passion for her work. Her journey serves as a testament to the strength and resilience of women in the face of systemic barriers, as well as societal, peer and family expectations. While Days of Happiness explores queer themes, its relevance extends to women and general public from diverse backgrounds and varying levels of mindset and progressiveness.

The film’s brilliance, particularly evident in its musical scoring choices featuring pieces by Mozart, and the more complicated Schönberg and Mahler. These selections add layers of complexity and richness to the storytelling, throwing viewers through the rollercoaster journey of the lead character while maintaining a certain distance that allows for contemplation and reflection. The interplay between the evocative music and the on-screen drama creates a refinement viewing experience, inviting audiences to engage more intellectually with the themes explored in the film, rather than with emotions, while appreciating the beauty of its musical accompaniment. Days of Happiness brings valuable insights into mixtures of resilience, agencies, commercial world, intricated romantic relationship, and the pursuit of career while maintaining happiness, impartiality and stay true to one self. In the end, it leaves a lasting impression, blending storytelling with captivating performances to create a cinematic experience that resonates after the credits roll. Although the film evokes various emotions and takes viewers on a ride through its narrative twists and turns, there’s still a sense of emotional distance or detachment that inhibits a fully immersive experience, which you will appreciate as it works hard to maintain the lighthearted tone and feel.

Within this year’s BFI Flare vibrant yet reflective themes, Days of Happiness stands out as a thought-provoking and evocative contribution offers a unique exploration of mere human emotion and connection. The film begins with Emma, unable to swim, unintentionally drifting on a pool float into the centre of a deep lake, with concerned spectators on the shore. It concludes with a more introspective Emma, peacefully floating on her back during her first swimming lesson, guided by an enchanting swimming instructor whose body language suggests a keen interest in her. An essential viewing.

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