“I like cinema, I don’t like cinephilia. I don’t care so much about films, I care about cinema in terms of place, this place where you can see,” French filmmaker Leos Carax once told me. “ It may be arrogant but I do believe that I live in this island; it’s worth living there.” And as one of the most brilliant filmmakers our of time, Carax’s brand of poetic cinema has been gracing our screens since the early 1980s, showing us the complexities of love and human connection in an ever-changing world.
Alongside releasing his debut film Boys Meets Girl, Carax spent time as observing cinema as a film critic, devouring the art of film and impressing that into his mature vision and fascinating aesthetic. “I started making films at the same time I discovered film, which rarely happens. Usually it’s two different times in your life. I don’t know if that’s good or bad but that’s how it happened,” he said. “So I watched a lot of films from age 16 to 24, a lot of silent films, Hollywood films obviously, and New Wave films but I think I stopped watching films at the time of my second film. I felt I’d paid my depth of love for the cinema.” And in that early time in his career, he established relationships with the geniuses that would go on to help establish his cinematic presence, with actors like the incomparable Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche as well as cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier.
From there he would go on to make a series of ecstatic and challenging films from Mauvais Sang and The Lovers on the Bridge, to Pola X and short films such as “Merde” and “Sans titre”—but it was his latest work, the confounding and awe-inspiring Holy Motors that brought him back into praise after a lengthy hiatus. Last year, we noted that it was a film that, “both explodes and implodes, a masterpiece of clever wit and visual wonder,” that was, “just as heartbreaking as it is hilarious—and you’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax, 1986)
Life is splendid with him. He guides me so well. He requires of me very beautiful things, very rigorous. You know, he is self-taught. Yes, he has done it all. He looked at me with the eyes of an inventor, with the eyes of a researcher, like I was an invaluable discovery, as if I had the solution to something. Something secret and mysterious that is hidden deep inside him. Sometimes I get so close, so near, but more often I am light years away? Curious, isn’t it? It’s my life, this thing, this thing like an enigma. An enigma that glues us together, both of us accomplices together. Maybe our love will die if it is solved too early or maybe not at all. - Anna
There’s a reason why beguiling French character actor Denis Lavant’s best performances are for director Leos Carax. While it’s easy for filmmakers to get lost in Lavant’s electrifyingly evocative, cavernously creased, and oddly beautiful face, doing so would be an incredible disservice to the entire package; Lavant is an intensely physical acrobat if ever there was one. He hurtles himself frenetically into every frame, contorting and cartwheeling with dizzying speed. Every visceral flick of his neck calls immediate attention to whatever his lizard-like eyes have discovered.
And so it’s a match made in cinematic heaven: Carax’ characters plunge themselves into dangerous and destructive situations in search of feeling; most often, young love. They do so often without the slightest regard for their wellbeing, and more often than not it doesn’t end up turning out so well, but it’s the breathless rush towards the promise of fulfillment that makes the gonzo romantic French auteur’s work exciting. Lavant plays different incarnations of Alex, a sort of fictional stand-in for Carax in three films, Carax’ first feature “Boy Meets Girl” (1984), “Mauvais Sang” (1986), and “The Lovers on the Bridge” (1991). When revivals of both “Mauvais Sang” and Boy Meets Girl played at the New York Film Festival, it felt like just as much of a celebration of Lavant as it did Carax.