After polarising critics at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, French director Leos Carax’s Holy Motors has taken arthouse audiences by storm across the globe over recent weeks. It’s weird, it’s poetic, it’s Lynchian, it’s an homage to cinema, it’s got Kylie Minogue. It’s got all of these things, or so I hear. I am yet to see it.
As another of my ‘crimes against cinema’, I am ashamed to admit I have never seen a Alex Oscar Dupont joint (that’s his real name, by the way). That’s right, not even his most accalaimed Lovers Under The Bridge from 1994. As a means to do right before I see Holy Motors, I’m spending the next five days going through Carax’s feature length filmography. Described as a mini-Godard, he has been carrying the French film baton for over thirty years now, and it’s about time I get round to grappling with it. Where better to start than the beginning. It is a very good place to start, afterall…
As Carax’s filmmaking debut, Boy Meets Girl is remarkably mature. A black and white mix of new wave, subjective realism and sombre german expressionism, it’s a blunt, thwarted love tale that only a 23 year old would have had the gall to create.
Carax’s central hero is a loveable loser named Alex (Denis Lavant), an aspiring filmmaker who copes with his girlfriend leaving him for his best friend by letting it infiltrate into his creative output. A day before he is called up for compulsory army service, Alex plots out the significant moments of his life on a wall map, with potential working titles for movies he’ll never create being the cohesive glue to his failed existence. Wandering Parisian side streets at night, Alex overhears an emotional break-up via an intercom. Allured by the aloof Mireille (Mireille Perrior), he smuggles into the upstairs party to find the face that matches that enchanting voice and fall head-over-hells in love all over again.
Now a longtime collaborator Carax, Lavant makes the seemingly irksome protagonist interesting. Blessed with a inexplicably cinematic, harsh face, Lavant encapsulates the post-adolescent delirium that many boys, and particularly artists, struggle with. Perrior too is fantastic, carrying the neurotic, often abrasive character with warmth.
Although the plot must have been as trite thirty years ago as it is now, Carax’s eye for the cinematic is transcendental. With whole sequences hardly delivering any narrative significance, they are neverthelles miraculously crafted and designed, with DP Jean-Yves Escoffier’s vivacious, yet dark cinematography matching the apathetic tone of the film.
Carax’s use of contemporary music is interesting too, with Dead Kennedy’s ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ soundtracking Mirelle’s post-break up trauma. That, and the use of highly contrasted black and white, certainly recalls Carax’s contemporaries – Jim Jarmusch of New York, and Aki Kaurismäki of Finland. All three were crafting their own niche ascetism to filmmaking, which soon led to their consideration as three of today’s working auteurs.
Back to Boy Meets Girl, it’s a laconic drama that oozes cool, even if it borrows a little too unashamedly from it’s arthouse influences, rather than providing anything new. It’s a common criticism with a debutant’s piece, and only leads me with eager anticipation into Carax’s 1986 follow up Mauvais Sang…
You can watch the whole film right now over on YouTube. With english subs!