#257: Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood) (1986)

Following his 1984 debut Boy Meets Girl, Leos Carax returned two years later with the second of what would be later known as ‘The Alex Trilogy’ of movies. Centring around the complex love stories of the eponymous rogue character (played once again by a fresh-faced Denis Lavant), Mauvais Sang (or ‘Bad Blood’, in English) sees Carax stepping out of the Cinémathèque Française’s archives and come up with his own perspective on the French avant-garde.

Carax isn’t much of a storyteller, but he makes up for it with a delirious lyrical form, cascading and overlapping poetic conceits and pure sensation. This time around, potato-faced Denis Lavant’s Alex is sharper than the one from two years back. A petty criminal and nimble-fingered cardsharp, he earns his bread by fooling betting suckers in the alleys of Paris. When Alex’ father dies, he abandons his sixteen-year-old girlfriend Lise (a stunning Julie Delphy) and tries to start life anew. His father’s associates, Hans (Hans Meyer), Marc (Michel Piccoli), owe money to some American/Russian mobsters, so Alex puts his fast hands to the test in a big heist–to steal a serum of the recently isolated, HIV-like love virus STBO. But the workshy Alex gets distracted by Marc’s angelic girlfriend Anna (Juliette Binoche), turning Mauvais Sang from film noir, crime thriller to an romantic art-film. 

Although the plot sounds very brawny and, for lack of a better word, ‘conventional’, Leos Carax’s central fixation in Mauvais Sang is the complex seduction of Alex over Anna. A man of minor proporitions, Lavant makes Alex a dominant, visceral presence that punches the air and flips over cars in the street, which is contrasted to the delicate, innocuous presence of a young Binoche as Anna. Up until the film’s close, we never fully acknowledge the depth of their complex relationship and how much, or how little, they love each other.

If he shifts from the Godard-like poetic realism trait of his previous film, Mauvais Sang sees Carax borrowing from another French visionary, Robert Bresson. It’s in the masochistic rough editing and spatial construction, but also in the restraint when it comes to violence. We hear gun shots, we see blood, but the action or charge in the crime scene is absent. It’s a vacuousness that will detach some audiences, but will leave others vicariously compelled. I’m still not sure where I sit on the fence, and I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or bad.

There’s a great deal of originality amongst all this cinephile homage, but more often than not, Carax’s experimental tendencies are problematic. Stagey acting aside, the use of music is forced and theatrical, with composing great Prokoviev’s grandiose score and David Bowie’s Modern Love soundtracking Alex’s run through Paris feeling heavy-handed to the point of  Billy Elliot gaudiness. Some of the post-production colour manipulation is just plain garish too, accentuating Binoche’s rosy cheeks, red lips and blood smeared face by the end of the film.

Even still, what Carax does manage to succeed in is telling a loaded crime-romance story his own way, with a reckless regard for conventional narrative plotting that is refreshing, ostentatious and one of a kind.

★★★☆☆☆
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You can watch Mauvais Sang in full on YouTube. There’s even subtitles for the non-Francophiles amongst us. 

PS – This is the second film in my Leos Carax: Crimes Against Cinema stint. Check out my previous film here. Four more movies to go!

#256: Boy Meets Girl (1984)

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…

★★★☆☆☆
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You can watch the whole film right now over on YouTube. With english subs!