The Life and Times of Leos Carax: Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, Mauvais Sang, Pola X, Holy Motors

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, Dance, Fantasy, France by CulturalMining.com on August 22, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking Boymeetsgirl_photofest_01_mediumat high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Leos Carax is a French Director. He’s one of those filmmakers that you may not have heard of, but who, once you see his movies, you’ll be hooked. He’s impossible to categorize, partly because he’s not like any other director, and partly because he’s not even like himself – he’s constantly changing his style and techniques. They shift from absurdist, comic-book-like films, to classic film noir gangster movies, to hyper-realistic semi-documentaries, and then back again. The one constant, in almost all his films, is the actor Denis Lavant.

Loversonthebridge_frl_03_mediumLes Amants du Pont-Neuf

Dir: Leos Carax

The first Leos Carax film I saw was Les Amant du Pont Neuf – Lovers on the Bridge. It’s a simple, — but not simplistic – story of an artist who is going blind (Juliette Binoche) who meets Alex, a street busker (Denis Lavant). They fall in love, sort of, and meet on an ancient Paris bridge that’s under repairs.  With the help of an eccentric, white-bearded hobo named Hans, the two of them try to stay together… but can they?

When I first saw this movie I thought – who the hell is playing this guy, alex? Denis Lavant is an intense performer who uses fire, acrobatics and bodily contortions and fighting as part of his acting. The movie feels like Carax just run into this busker on the street at random, and decided to film him. (That’s not the case, obviously). Oh yeah, and in this movie he doesn’t really speak. He’s an unbreakable but cartoonish figure, while Binoche is a tragic and passionate heroine.

Critics tend to exaggerate the importance of movies, every poster has some critic saying a movie is the best thing ever. Personally, I think hyperbole is the most overated technique in the world – no the universe… But honestly, if you’re a cinephile, if you love movies, you should be required to see Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. It’s that different, that important.

Mauvaissang_photofest_01_mediumMauvais Sang

… was one of Carax’s earliest films, the second one he made. It’s as complex as Pont Neuf is simple. This is about two young lovers, Lise and Alex (played by a teenaged Julie Delpy and Denis Lavant), happy and carefree in the fields of Paris. He is known as a trickster – he picks up extra income doing street scams like three card monte in dark allies. But Alex is pulled away from this life by a pair of aging gangsters.

They know him from working with his late father, and they need Alex – known for his nimble fingers – to help pull off a complicated theft. You see, they owe money to an older American woman, also a gangster; if they pull off the heist, she’ll will cancel their debt. If not… they’re dead meat.

What’s the heist? They have to break into a lab and steal a deadly sexually transmitted virus called STBO, that could kill millions, and whose vaccine would be worth a fortune. (This movie was made in 1986, during the height of the HIV plague).

Alex agrees. He leaves his motorcycle with Lise and flees the city – only to be smitten by the gorgeous Anna (Juliette Binoche) , the mistress of one of the white-haired gangsters. But she rejects him, saying she’s attracted to much older men, bigger men, not to him.

And Lise, meanwhile, won’t let Alex leave her.

Mauvais Sang is a highly-stylized film, filled with peeping toms, bizarre scenes of jumping out of airplanes, staring up at windows, and chase scenes down those long French roads lined with plane trees.

Sometimes it feels like he’s mocking the audience, that it’s all just a big parody; and then it’ll shift into an amazingly passionate and playful scene between Binoche and Lavant and you’re totally caught up in it.

The women in this movie are always smartly dressed and coiffed, while the men, even the older gangsters, seem to walk around semi-clothed, with shirtless chase scenes and shootouts.

In this film, Lavant is still a boy, given to extended shots of him racing down a street, shifting from modern dance to shadow boxing to spontaneous handsprings. Binoche is a pixie with a black, page-boy haircut with flawless, porcelain skin and red lips. The two of them setting up scenes of unrequited love you can follow in Les Amant du Pont- Neuf. Wow – what a movie.

Pola X

…was made in 1999, and it feels different from his other movies. It’s about Pierre (Guillaume Pola X (1999 France)  Directed by Leos Carax Shown: Guillaume DepardieuDepardieu), a young novelist from a very rich family. He wears only white linen and hops in and out of bed with his equally blonde fiancée. His publisher loves his innocence and immaturity. But Pierre  wants to experience reallife. Then his controlling mother (Catherine Deneuve) discovers a secret – some old papers that his late father (a French diplomat who served in Eastern Europe) left behind.

Meanwhile, Pierre discovers that a scruffy, dark-haired street woman is following him – who is she? Listen to her story: (clip)

When he discovers that she may be his blood sister, he throws away his best friend, his fiancé, his family and wealth and plunges into her life of danger and poverty… and possibly, love.

Were this by any other director, I’d say, wow, cool, passionate drama – but it feels like something’s missing. While it has a lot of Carax’s touches – it feels like his most main-stream or conventional film. What’s missing is Denis Lavant. Lavant is a very unusual-looking movie star – he has a compact muscular body, a flattened nose, gap-teeth, scarred skin. He can also do just about anything – magic, acrobatics, dance… anything. In comparison, the late Depardieu (he tragically died from an infection) while compelling, just doesn’t seem to match the greatness and strangeness of someone like Lavant.

Finally,

holymotors_wildbunch_02_mediumHoly Motors

…which just came out last year.

Oscar (Denis Lavant) gets picked up in the morning by a white stretch limo, driven by a handsome, older chauffeur named Cecile.

Maybe it’s just a day like any other for a rich businessman… or is it? You soon discover that inside the limo he has costumes, makeup, spirit gum, wigs and beards. He turns into the man or woman he plays in each act. So, over the course of a day, he becomes a middle-aged, ruthless businessman, a homeless Eastern-European woman, an assassin, a doting dad, a dying man, and Kylie Minogue’s lover. Occasionally, between acts, he’s just Oscar: the man in the car.

In one especially marvellous and shocking sequence he becomes an eccentric street maniac (“M. Merde”) who crawls out of a manhole, pushes his way through a crowd, and stumbles into a fashion shoot in a Parisian cemetery. He violently attacks the photographer’s assistant, biting off her fingers, and smearing the blood all over an unflappably blasé supermodel… before carrying her off to an underground hideaway for a bizarre sexual encounter and another shocking transformation. (No spoilers here — watch the movie to find out the rest of it.)

So what’s going on? Is Oscar (which is also the director’s middle name) like the guy in the Truman Show, unknowingly living an artificial life for the delight of viewers? Or is Oscar doing this for you and me (the moviegoers) playing his role in the cosmic scheme of things — the entire movie is his act. Life’s an illusion, but an enjoyable one, and Denis (with Edith Skob as the driver) have never been better.

Modern Love – The Films of Leos Carax, curated by James Quandt,  is being screened in Toronto beginning this weekend, with the director speaking at some of the shows. Go to tiff.net for details. And the funny road comedy I reviewed last week, We’re The Millers, opens today – check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website,culturalmining.com

Mothers and Daughters. Movies reviewed: Hello I Must Be Going, Mama.

Posted in Cultural Mining, Feminism, Ghost Busters, Horror, Movies, Romania, Romantic Comedy, Thriller, TJFF, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 26, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Hollywood has turned into a place where women are treated as an afterthought. It’s not unusual to see movies with 10 or 20 main characters with only one woman. So this week I’m looking at two genre movies that are usually male-oriented, but in this case are both told from a female point of view (though both have male directors). One’s an indie rom-com about hidden love under their parents’ gaze, the other is a chiller-thriller about surrogate moms.

hello i must be going poster Hello I Must be Going

Dir: Todd Louiso

Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) hates her life. She hasn’t been outside her parents home or changed her ratty T-shirt for about three months. Why? Because her career-driven entertainment lawyer husband dumped her and she has nothing to show for all those years of marriage. She let her own interests slide (she used to be an MFA grad student, a photographer) to support him and now she has nothing. Nothing!

So she’s back with her parents just as her dad setting up a big contract that will let him retire and to travel with mom (Blythe Danner) around the world. So Amy has to dress up pretty for a dinner party so she won’t spoil the deal.

At the dinner party she meets the deal partners’ son Jeremy, an actor. He’s also moved the wigglesback to his therapist-mom’s house after years on a children’s TV show like The Wiggles. (He’s Mr Green)

Amy and Jeremy are both mortified by their parents’ conversations and find common ground.

Christopher_Abbott_and_Melanie_LynskeyShe’s awkward. He’s an actor. Sparks fly.

They bond, and later enjoy passionate sex. Amy’s life seems to be turning around. But the last thing Amy wants is to ruin he dad’s deal, so they have to keep it hush-hush. She visits him in the middle of the night to throw pebbles at his window. They go skinny dipping and make out in the backseats of cars. It’s like she’s living as a teenager again, complete with nosy parents and furtive dates.

Oh yeah – I forgot to mention. Jeremy, though an accomplished actor and an adult… is a teenager! (He’s 19.) Oh, also his accepting mom, a therapist (c’mere, give me a hug!), thinks he’s gay. Christopher_AbbottHe’s actually a closet heterosexual who doesn’t want to upset his mother’s plans.

Can Amy and Jeremy’s relationship last? Will her parents ever respect her and treat her as an adult? What will the future bring? I liked this movie — Hello I Must Be Going (the title is a reference to a song in a Marx Brothers movie) is a very sweet, realistic romantic comedy, with a nice, indie feel (It played at Sundance last year).

The acting is good all-around. Melanie Lynskey is a Kiwi, who started as a girl in the fantastic movie Heavenly Creatures. Blythe Danner plays Amy’s mom in a not-so-sympathetic but multifaceted way; and you probably recognize Christopher Abbot, who plays Charlie, one of the boyfriends from the TV comedy Girls (He’s the one who gets dumped on for being way too nice and accommodating but in a smarmy sort of way. He looks and acts totally different in this role.) This is a fun, different kind of indie movie to see.

mamaMama

Dir: Andres Muschietti

Two girls are found by their uncle Lucas in a cabin in the woods. They’ve been missing for five years after a violent incident involving their parents. Somehow, they managed to survive there on nothing but wild cherries. But they went feral, and now run around like foxes or chimps or Linda Blair in the Exorcist, except without the crabwalk. The two girls barely talk to outsiders and know no basic social rules. So they need surrogate parents to raise them and a psychologist to study them.

So Lucas (Danish actor Nicolaj Koster-Waldau) gets his wild-ass girlfriend Annabel to move in with him and help take care of the kids. Annabel (Jessica Chastaine) is a rocker with a full sleeve tat and a foul mouth. She’s in a band, and does all the irresponsible things rock musicians are supposed to do. But when something happens to Lucas, she’s suddenly the de facto mother of these two crazy girls – Victoria and Lily (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse).

Victoria was older when she disappeared so she can communicate, but Lily is nearly a lost cause. They are used to a world of bugs and plants and dirt, of hollows they can hide in, not clean, lit rooms. But things are transforming around them. There are strange cracks that appear on walls, moths that fly out of holes, strange noises you hear through vents in the house.mama2 chastain

The shrink says there’s an imaginary mother – they call her Mama – who they turn to for help. But is she real, imaginary, or something else? It’s up to Annabel to find out who is helping them, and where this Mama came from, if she actually exists.

This is a very good, female-centred chiller-thriller, where the girls, their heroine, and her nemesis are all women. It’s a B-movie, a genre pic, but it’s a good one. Mexican Guillermo del Toro, one of my favourite directors, was a producer for this one and it carries a lot of his trademarks: sounds through vents, scary houses, the possibly imaginary, and other-wordly lives of small girls, nice creepy production values, and lots of good, scary scenes. This is director Muschietti’s first feature, and I’d go to more of his movies.

Mama opens today, and you can catch Hello I Must Be Going at a special screening on Sunday, January 27th, as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series, sponsored by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Go to tjff.com for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .

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