Monday, May 17, 2021

Cannes 1984: Leos Carax, First Time

Daney knew Carax who attended his university lectures and wrote in Cahiers but this is Daney's first text on Carax the filmmaker. 

Leos Carax, First Time

Boy Meets Girl. Libé meets Carax. Yes, there are still filmmakers proud enough to talk about themselves in the first person. This is why, yesterday, we really liked Boy Meets Girls by Leos Carax, 23.

A frail ghost haunts the whole festival – Cannes as much as any other – that of the first film of a young and (perhaps) brilliant filmmaker. The “revelation” as the press says, the “hope”, the guarantee that cinema will continue, that it will produce its own Rimbauds and seven-year-old poets come hell or high water, that it can start again from scratch, that it doesn’t die. That everything has been processed, and yet, everything is left to play for. 

But at the same time, because we have praised too many talents that have not kept their promise, because we have called “young filmmakers” late beginners that stopped being teenagers long ago, because producers lacking new flesh have burnt up young talents with budgets too big, too quickly, this haunting is no longer mentioned. We are satisfied being grateful to young filmmakers today for merely carrying along the sensibility of the 1980s and for “resembling” their era (sociologically), even if it has (obviously) nothing to do with their merit. They arrive after the fact, very mannered, often nostalgic, aggressive out of necessity, ignorant and extremely cinephilic. They know that it’s harder for them to cause a scandal as easily as their elders, that they have been deprived of a revolt. But they are arriving, and necessarily so. 

Yesterday we saw Boy Meets Girl, Leos Carax’s first full-length film. It’s a real first film and he is (let’s bet on him) a genuine auteur. But like one is at his age, meaning at 23 years. The film is uneven of course, not well-controlled, precarious and riddled with impasses, but it oozes cinema (and not just love for the cinema) and it is made in 1984. The actors are of the same age as the director, the hero, Alex, resembles Carax like a brother, and they only talk of what’s around them and what interests them: their unease with life, the desire to have got it over with already, to have a body of work behind them, both a taste and a disgust for the world, reticence, dark ideas and a rock-solid ego. Carax also has a rare talent for poetry.

Telling the story of a film like Boy Meets Girl doesn’t help at all. Not because there is a mystery to protect here: it’s the (Bressonian) story of a young boy, on the night before leaving for military service, caught between a girl that left him and a girl that he meets, already “between sorrow and nothingness”. But because the mystery is in every instant, in the confident mise en scène when it conveys this unbearable feeling of precariousness, in the beauty of the monologues delivered in a flat voice, with no safety net. 

Two friends talk on the banks of the Seine, at night, and one throws himself at the other, there are sexual confidences, both daring and sweet, as a voiceover, a pinball machine that flashes even when opened up, a child that launches into a devastated monologue in the metro, the blinding light of a photocopier, a mute man who tells off young people for “not speaking”, abandoned children who cry in a room at a reception, music records stolen out of love, a maid’s room lit up by the light of an open fridge, the pride of love’s labours lost, and almost no adults whatsoever. 

A young auteur (Carax?) is someone who knows that he has already seen a lot of films, experienced few things (but already some difficulty) and that there is no time to waste to begin – calmly but immodestly – talking about them. Not because they are of value in themselves,  but because one makes film with what one has. An autobiography and exalted programme of a (dazzling) life ahead, followed by moments of aphasia where the tribute to silent films is not a cinephile’s vanity but a rough time to get through. The terror of wandering all night in a world “already seen” but “not yet experienced”. A young codger who can only become younger. 

There is something contemporary about the stubborn gaze of Alex and Mireille, two teenagers not even lost, merely “added” to the world that surrounds them: the confession of a revolt necessarily repressed. And there is something of the past in the way they live their life as fate, but in the future perfect, like in a nineteenth century novel. On the pale wall of his bedroom, Alex has drawn a rough map of Paris where he carefully writes down the place and date of everything that has been “a first time” for him. A beautiful image for a first film: birth, first kiss, first murder attempt etc.

There is also something contemporary in the way Carax restarts the autobiographical films of the New Wave (from Godard to Garrel, but also from Skolimowski to Bertolucci), no longer in a Paris freed from film studios that Coutard filmed, but in a nocturnal Paris, obscure, at dusk, full of neon and low lights, the Paris of all the filmmakers of his generation.

Who is Leos Carax? Alex’s double, but what else? Leos is not very tall, he wears oversized jackets that make him look even younger. He doesn’t say much. He has made a short film (Strangulation Blues). He lives only on cinema. He resembles the Léaud who stole pictures of stars in The 400 Blows. He’s the one who often comes to ask a saleswoman at a large film bookshop in Paris if she has “new stuff” about Godard. Posters or photos. For – the reader will have guessed it – Godard is a god for Carax. 

First published in Libération on 17 May 1984. Reprinted in La Maison cinéma et le monde, vol. 2, Paris, P.O.L, 2002.

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