Leos Carax: An Appreciation

Acclaimed French filmmaker Leos Carax is the subject of a recently released feature-length documentary called Mr. X.  He is a writer and director as well as former film critic.  He is known for painful depictions of love in his films as well as bringing a poetic style reminiscent of the films of the French New Wave (particularly the films of Jean-Luc Godard).  Over the last 30 years he has made only five feature films, but each has been critically acclaimed and certainly packs an emotional wallop.  Carax was also the subject of a recent retrospective at the Film Forum in New York City (which showed all five of his films plus the doc Mr. X).  This appreciation will focus on all five of Carax’s films: Boy Meets Girl, Muvais Sang, The Lovers On the Bridge, Pola X, and Holy Motors.

1984’s Boy Meets Girl marked Carax’s directorial debut, centering on an (1984) Boy Meets Girldepressed aspiring filmmaker who, after being recently dumped by his girlfriend, soon falls in love with a suicidal young woman with tragic results.  Featuring Denis Lavant and Mereille Perrier, the film’s screenplay was also written by Carax and the film received a special Award of the Youth at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.  This film marked the first of four collaborations Carax would have with Lavant, who was essentially Carax’s alter ego on screen, as well as the first of three collaborations with director of photography Jean-Yves Escoffier.

Carax followed up his directorial debut with 1986’s Muvais Sang, which centers on a pair of aging criminals who are blackmailed into stealing a new serum.  The criminals are forced to recruit the son of one of their former colleagues to assist with the heist, and things gets complicated when the young man falls for the young lover of one of the criminals.  Featuring Michel Piccoli, Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant, Hans Meyer, and Julie Delpy, the film was nominated for three Cesar Awards (Best Actress for Binoche, Most Promising Actress for Delpy, and Best Cinemaography for Escoffier) but did not win.

Carax reunited with Lavant and Binoche five years later in 1991’s The Lovers On the Bridge, which centers on a male vagrant (who’s addicted to sedatives and alcohol) who falls in love with a female vagrant (who’s an artist slowly losing her eyesight) while living on the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris (while it’s closed for repairs) during the French Bicentennial.  Also featuring Klaus Michael Gruber, it was one of the most expensive French films ever to be made largely due to the construction of a replica set of the Pont Neuf bridge (since Carax couldn’t get to shoot on the real Pont Neuf bridge for the time frame that he needed).  It also marked the final collaboration for Carax and Escoffier.

Carax’s most controversial film is 1999’s Pola X, which centers on a young, successful writer who meets a young woman claiming to be his half-sister and Pola X (movie poster).jpgsubsequently takes her to Paris to start a new life.  Things get complicated as the writer begins an incestuous relationship with her while he struggles to write a second novel and is being pursued by his former fiancée.  Featuring Guillaume Depardieu, Yekaterina Golubeva, Delphine Chuillot, and Catherine Deneuve, the film was based on Herman Melville’s novel Pierre: Or, the Ambiguities and gained controversy for a scene of unsimulated sex (reportedly, body doubles were used for the more graphic shots).

Perhaps Carax’s most bizarre film, 2012’s Holy Motors centers on a man who seems to be an actor who is driven by limo from appointment to appointment.  The catch is that he performs as a different character for each appointment with the help of costumes and prosthetic makeup, but there don’t seem to be any cameras around, or are there?  Featuring Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes, and Michel Piccoli, the film was nominated for nine Cesar Awards (including Best Actor for Lavant, Best Director, and Best Film) but did not win.  It also received a number of Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Foreign Language Film award nods from various critics associations.

Don’t forget to check out Tessa Louise-Salome’s Mr. X if you get the chance to.  It includes interviews with Carax, Denis Lavant, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Mireille Perrier, Harmony Korine, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa.  Thank you, Leos Carax, for the films you’ve made (I was fortunate to see all of them plus the documentary during Film Forum’s Carax retrospective).  I, along with the rest of the world, look forward to your next film (another collaboration with Lavant and/or Binoche, perhaps?).  C’est la vie.

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