Boy Meets Girl:
Back in 1984, twenty-three year-old Leos Carax entered the film scene with what would become the first of what has become known as 'The Alex Trilogy,' three wildly romantic films all starring Denis Lavant ("Beau Travail") as Alex, a man living increasingly on the edges of society falling for the woman of his dreams. The first, "Boy Meets Girl," shares the punk sensibilities of other films, like Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" and Alex Cox's "Repo Man," which came out that year but also establishes themes and stylistic choices, many borrowed from the French New Wave, which would carry through Carax's own filmography.
Alex, a young man with a violent streak ('5/23/83 first murder attempt') whose girlfriend has left him, is immediately drawn to Mireille (Mireille Perrier, "Toto the Hero") when he eavesdrops on a conversation being held on her apartment's intercom speaker. When he first sets eyes on her, she's spinning in an embrace with another man on the Pont Neuf. Alex crashes the party of a wealthy American woman, Helen (Carroll Brooks), who tells him it is a gathering of important people - a child with a 250 IQ, an astronaut, Miss Universe - and it is here that he finally meets the suicidal Mireille.
Carax, together with cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (who would complete Carax's trilogy, creates gorgeous black and white images of Paris featuring the twinkling lights, rippling water and tracking dance shots that would appear in later films. Alex's checked jacket will become diamonds, then triangles in the second and third, as will a very deliberate use of primary color. We will also see female physical imperfections (Mirieille's odd teeth in a perfect face, Anna's eye disease in "The Lovers on the Bridge") marring perfect beauty; muteness, sometimes via external sound drowning out dialogue; blindness (Alex walks along the bridge with eyes closed and arms outstretched) and Lavant's incredible physicality and array of vaudevillian/circus talents. The director indulges his love of the music of the time, most notably with the Dead Kennedys' 'Holiday in Cambodia.'
The film, which is quickly paced and edited, slows down dramatically for a long dialogue scene a la Godard's 'Breathless,' in which we cannot but help be drawn into the large depths of Perrier's eyes. Later, we watch Lavant play pinball from the rear right of the machine and somehow Carax and his star project the game itself. A climatic zoom, framing Lavant and Perrier within a window, anticipates a similar shot near the end of "Holy Motors" almost thirty years later.
"Boy Meets Girl" is a little rough around the edges, establishing a filmmaker who is at once not very experienced and yet precocious, an auteur in the making. It's a dazzling first work, funny, romantic and tragic. B+
Bad Blood (Mauvais Sang):
Like his last, in this film, set in a near future, Alex is not the first character we meet. Instead we have Hans (Hans Meyer, "Brotherhood of the Wolf") and Marc (Michel Piccoli, "Belle du Jour"), in a panic having learned that Jean committed suicide by jumping off a subway platform - or was he pushed? They suspect The American (Carroll Brooks of "Boy Meets Girl"), they owe her money, do not know where it went and have two weeks to pay. They discuss Jean and Valerie's long ago love affair and its progeny, Alex, who then comes into view, in "Bad Blood (Mauvais Sang)."
He's living outside the city and has a much younger, besotted girlfriend, 16 year-old Lise (Julie Delpy), to whom he's promised his motorbike when he gets his new one. What Lise doesn't expect is that she'll be running after him when he leaves her, gone to join Hans and Marc to take a job to help them get their funds. They plan to steal a serum which cures a fatal disease incurred when people make love without emotion (an uneasy AIDS metaphor?) and 'Tongue-tied,' as their friends' son was nicknamed, has the small size and physical agility to do it.
When Alex arrives, he's immediately taken with Anna (Juliette Binoche), Marc's much younger lover and Carax explores a love triangle through the lens of Truffaut, Godard and his own evolving skills.
There is also Thomas (Jérôme Zucca), the friend whom Alex entrusts Lise to who just happens to be the Peeping Tom haunting Anna. Maternal and paternal themes also come into play when we learn that Alex only courts women whose fathers have died and that The American has been growing sentimental.
Once again we have the dancing tracking shot (to Bowie's 'Modern Love'), ventriloquism, fire breathing and a masterful, allegorical parachute jumping sequence. A protracted romantic sequence between Alex and Anna crosses the line into cutesiness, only to be yanked back by Alex's imagined silent film which reminds us that there is a caper going on. Carax's smash cuts to black remain jarring, but his sound transitions, not unlike those used by Alex Cox, are more elegant. This time the director also utilizes a romantic genre score and Jean-Yves Escoffier's color photography emphasizes the color red. The film's heist will once again call to mind "Holy Motors," just as its ending does "Breathless." "Mauvais Sang" is arguably the best of the trilogy.
The Lovers on the Bridge:
A homeless man staggers up a Parisian street and is hit by a bus. A homeless woman with an eye patch observes the man lying in the road. Alex (Denis Lavant) is picked up and taken to a shelter. When he returns to his home on the Pont Neuf, his friend Hans (Klaus-Michael Grüber) informs him that another guy has taken his spot, but Alex discovers that it is a woman, and while she sleeps, rifles through her artwork and finds a portrait of himself. Alex and Michèle (Juliette Binoche) are "The Lovers on the Bridge."
Five years later, Carax's third film almost seems to pick up where "Mauvais Sang" left us off. Alex is at his lowest point yet, but finds love once again with a damaged female artist.
This film put Carax into filmmaker's jail for quite some time due to his extravagant budget overruns. Despite its centerpiece, an eye-dropping spectacle that is like "An American in Paris" crossed with "Apocalypse Now," however, the romance is less satisfying, the film's conclusion less earned, because of the sadistically selfish behavior Alex exhibits.
Michèle's introduction to Alex is a humorous fakeout, but her story is tragic. She does not speak of her past, but she is suffering from a degenerative eye disease. Bright, flashing lights and the concentration needed for her art cause her to lose consciousness. Gradually we learn more about her, but her attempts to connect with her past are thwarted by Alex at every turn, even when it means her salvation. More sympathetic than Alex is Hans, whose motivation for wishing to ban Michèle from the bridge is a real heart breaker when it is revealed.
But there is no denying the utter romanticism of the film. If Alex saved Anna during a parachute jump in "Mauvais Sang," here he helps her experience life with by taking her water skiing on the Seine, all lit up for the French bicentennial celebrations. (This scene is paralleled later when Alex denies Michèle a shot at life by burning the missing posters which line a subway pedestrian tunnel.) Dancing to Bowie ('Time Will Crawl'), fire breathing, nightmares of death, the Pont Neuf, violent crime and other motifs are present. The primary colors of red, yellow and blue predominate and once again, Alex will sport a geometrically patterned jacket.
Each of the three films is a treat on is own, but seeing all three in succession makes the sum larger than its parts.
Robin's reviews coming soon.
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