Monday, May 9, 2011


I think for the rest of the year I'll be giving Michael Mann a break (although not Claire Denis), and focusing more on exploring the world of Leos Carax. Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley and Aki Kaurismaki are the three most common directors associated with Robert Bresson. Most of their work features, dry/deadpan performances and specific scenes that seem to come directly from Bresson's work (the scene in Hartley's 'Henry Fool' when Henry stabs Warren, as well as the prison scene in 'Kaurismaki's 'Ariel' when he pushes the prison guard over the rail both clearly reference the prison scene in Bresson's 'L'Argent' when Yvon gets in to a fight with another inmate). But in my opinion, Leos Carax deserves a comparison to Bresson just as much as the aforementioned directors, even more more so than Godard, who Carax is constantly compared too (which is understandable). At times, Carax reminds me off a "Bresson 2.0" with his first 2 films; 'Boy Meets Girl' and 'Bad Blood'.
Now, one thing that Carax has over any of the previously mentioned contemporaries is the fact that he has actor Denis Lavant. Having Denis Lavant as your most commonly used actor is a blessing. Not only can he act and give performances ranging from an almost sadistic military sergeant in Claire Denis' 'Beau Travail' to the likeable "Alex" from Leos Carax's first trilogy of films, but he also has the agility & strength of a circus gymnast (which is a feature that almost every director who casts Lavant utilizes). I mean, how many actors can do flips on cue, dance, contort their body...or even blow fire without the use of a stuntman?

Lavant blowing fire in 'The Lovers On The Bridge'

Lavant showing up a fellow soldier by doing more push-ups than him in 'Beau Travail'. In fact, this was probably his most physically demanding role to date.

Lavant as the Godzilla-like creature/leprechaun in 'Tokyo'

Lavant flips a car over in 'Bad Blood' 

Along with Herzog/Kinski, Denis/Descas, John Cassavetes' family of actors and Hartley/Donovan, Carax and Lavant are my favorite director/actor combination. And their long career with one another started with 'Boy Meets Girl'.
Carax's black & white, deadpan feature is like Bresson meets godard. In fact, Mireille Perrier & Denis Lavant come off like Anna Karina and Jean Paul Belmondo under the direction of a young Bresson instead of Godard. Even the scene in 'Boy Meets Girl' where we see Mireille Perrier tap dance (who's wearing plaid, just like Karina's dress in 'Band of Outsiders'), it almost comes off like something Anna Karina would do in a Godard film. I don't know what it is, but it seems like all young french filmmakers (Carax was only 23 when he made 'Boy Meets Girl') are almost always influenced by Godard early on in their careers. See my review for Xavier Dolan's 'Heartbeats' for further examples of this.

Mireille & Lavant in 'Boy Meets Girl'
Anna Karina & Jean Paul Belmondo in 'A Woman Is A Woman'
Mireille's dance scene in 'Boy Meets Girl' (note the plaid pants and black sweater which is very similar to what karina wears in 'Band of Outsiders')...
Karina in 'Band Of Outsiders'

In 'Boy Meets World', we follow: Alex (Lavant), an aspiring young filmmaker, who seems to be all talk (he has yet to make a movie and all he does is talk about the titles of movies he wants to make, yet he still calls himself a director) and "Mireille"(Perrier), a failed (suicidal) actress. Both have just been dumped by their significant others. After Alex has been dumped, he hears Mireille's voice and instantly falls in love with her, before actually even seeing her. For the rest of the film we watch Alex & Mirielle try to make their new relationship work after having both of their hearts recently broken. Even though this film is categorized as "arthouse", the basic plot of 'Boy Meets Girl' transcends that arthouse label, and can be enjoyed by anyone who likes offbeat romantic movies. Unlike Carax's later work ('lovers on the bridge' and his segment in 'Tokyo'), 'Boy Meets Girl' is a very minimalist film much like Jarmusch's 'Stranger Than Paradise', which was also released in 1984. As i mentioned before, the acting & delivery of lines is very low key and calm, the cinematography is made up of a lot of long single take shots, and even the actors' wardrobes are made up of mostly plaid and pinstripes to further play on the black & white imagery of the film. Even if this movie was shot in color, you get the feeling that the clothes worn by the actors in the film would've still been primarily black & white. For a directorial debut, this is a great film. Carax hadn't completely found his "style" yet (although how many directors do on their first try?), but little bits & pieces of Carax's unique style were visible through out the movie.

Carax's 2nd feature is what inspired this blog entry. Ever since doing that "Five From The Fire" write-up for the pink smoke in which i was given the task to save 5 films (total) from the combined filmography of 5 random directors, I've been a little messed up on the inside. I still cant believe that i left Carax's work behind, and picked George Lucas's films instead. I guess I'm making up for it with this blog. In 'Bad Blood', we see the beautiful Juliette Binoche alongside Denis Lavant playing "Alex" from 'Boy Meets Girl' once again. Along with Todd Haynes' 'Safe', this is the best AIDS allegory film in years. In 'Safe' Julianne Moore plays a housewife who develops "environmental sickness", and becomes allergic to almost anything (deodorant, lotion, hair gel, gas, etc etc), eventually developing welts/legions on her face. In Carax's 'Bad Blood' there's a nameless "disease" going around killing couples. Both 'Safe' and 'Bad Blood' deal with AIDS in a non-traditional/non-obvious way. More importantly, they show that AIDS (even though that's not what its called in either movie) can affect anyone, and not just homosexuals, which is what most traditional films that's focus on AIDS tend to do. I dunno, maybe I'm just pretentious, but i prefer these kinds of movies over 'Philadelphia' or 'And The Band Played On'.
In 'Bad Blood', "Alex" is hired by 2 over-the-hill thieves that need his help (and steady hands) to steal a cure/serum for the mysterious disease that's been killing people, so they can sell it and get the money to pay off an American gangster they're in debt too. Alex becomes distracted from his task when he meets one of the theives' mistresses; "Anna" (Played by Juliette Binoche), and falls madly in love with her. He finds it very difficult to communicate with Anna, so he just observes her mostly. To make things worse, Alex's ex-girlfriend (played by Julie Delpy) doesn't want to accept the fact that they've broken up, and manages to track him down. Carax moved away from the Godard influence found in his first film (even though there's STILL a little bit of Godard's style that resonates through), and seemed to be even MORE influenced by Bresson. The way the actors in 'Bad Blood' deliver their lines at times sound just as emotionless and dry as the actors do in 'The Devil Probably' or 'Lancelot Du Lac' (both great films by Bresson that you all should check out if you havent).
The highlight of this movie for me (next to Lavant's great performance) is Juliette Binoche. And not even so much her acting. Not too say that she isn't a great actress, because she is, but her beauty kind of gets in the way of one paying attention to her acting in 'Bad Blood'

Carax's use of color is bold and subtle at the same time. At the start of the film (which has an atmosphere very similar to Carax's later film; 'Pola X') the colors are flat and drab. When Alex is hired to steal the serum (and comes in contact with Anna for the first time), the color red is made more than obvious for the rest of the film. The splashes of red on the walls, the red couch that Binoche lays on, her red sweater etc. Carax even utilizes Binoche's very white face to highlight the color the red. The blood on the side of her face at the end, her red cheeks and red lips looks even brighter next to her almost pale complexion. And every color in the film that isn't red is either dark or grayish, which highlights the color even more. Naturally when there's a movie with "blood" in the title, coupled with the fact that the movie is a metaphor for a blood-affecting disease like AIDS, chances are you're going to subconsciously associate the color red with the movie. Carax knew this and he played off of that.
Doesn't this still of Juliette Binoche kinda remind you of 'Amelie'?

Carax finished off his "Alex" trilogy with a bang. His third film (and last with Denis Lavant until 2008) is "bigger" and more elaborate than anything else he's ever done. In fact, I'd say his segment in 'Tokyo' is the only thing he's done that's come close to 'Lovers on the bridge' in terms of location, budget and all around "epicness".
In 'The Lovers On The Bridge', Juliette Binoche plays; "Michel", a homeless artist with a shady/mysterious past, who's slowly going blind, that forms a relationship/bond with Denis Lavant, who plays the same Alex character from Carax's previous 2 films. As the movie unfolds, Alex slowly starts to piece together Michele's past. Alex is a lot more complex in this film than he is in the other 2. As he starts to uncover Michele's past, he keeps information from her that could actually help her (even going so far as to take advantage of her bad eye sight) because he doesn't want her to leave him. Michele's family puts out missing person fliers all over Paris with her face on them, but because she can barely see, Alex tears them all down (in one scene he catches a city worker putting them up all over town, so he sets his truck on fire). Eventually Binoche learns that her family is looking for her and that there's an operation that can save her sight. At that point their love for each other is put to the test. Binoche leaves and goes back to her family, while Alex goes to jail for setting fire to the truck (as well as the person inside it).
The best parts of this movie are all the scenes where Alex and Binoche are running around Paris like 2 children, essentially doing what they want. One scene shows the 2 lovers playing a "prank" on all of Paris, by slipping a heroin-like drug in to Innocent bystanders' drinks when they aren't looking, causing them to nod off. Naturally, there's nothing funny about that, but at the same time, the way Carax directs & edits the scene actually does make it kinda funny. In another scene, we see the 2 lovers dancing through the streets (as fireworks appear  in the background) and randomly firing gun shots in to the air. My only issue with 'Lovers On The Bridge' is how ugly Carax managed to make Binoche (the eye patch, the rotting teeth and the overall appearance of not taking a shower in a while).
And on a side note, what i also love about this film is the obvious influence it had on Jonathan Glazer's music video for Unkle's 'Rabbit In Your Headlights' (which is a song off of one of my all time favorite albums). Glazer even cast Denis Lavant in the music video. 'The Lovers On The Bridge' opens with Alex walking in the middle of a busy street, out of his mind, only to get his leg ran over by a car (and it actually doesn't even seem to affect him). In Glazer's music video, Denis Lavants wanders aimlessly through a busy highway, getting hit numerous times by passing cars only to get up like its nothing.
Its also quite interesting that Carax's common theme in all of his movies (including his film; 'Pola X' which came years later) is "love". I always found this kinda funny because if you've ever seen video of Leos Carax (who makes an appearance at the beginning and end of Harmony Korine's 'mister lonely'), he seems like a pretty gloomy and depressed guy. I would've never expected a film like 'The Lovers On The Bridge' to come from someone like him.


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