THE BEAUTIFUL NIGHTMARES OF LEOS CARAX

The past few days we’ve been at TIFF many times to see the full output of a largely unappreciated film master, Leos Carax (b. 1960). Here we shall only try to briefly get to the nub of this complex, incisive and thrilling art.Pictured first are the supernal Juliette Binoche and the astonishing Denis Lavant in that dazzling and demanding gift, The Lovers on the Pont Neuf (1991). Vagrants on Paris’ premier bridge, under renovation, these two breathtakingly pursue visions of dynamic cogency, and in so doing they suffuse us with the frisson and the elusiveness of innovation as mired in venerable grotesqueness. Those of us who know Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer have the opportunity to become enchanted by the more recent film’s brimming with eagerness to add fire to the great template’s melancholy recognition of the pervasive dullness of callow pretenders to launching a world of chivalry they imagine to pass for something new.  

Twenty years after Lavant breathed fire for Carax on the Pont Neuf, he would attempt to bring some life to Pere Lachaise Cemetery (last home of many of the “notable” Parisians), in a major gem from 2012, Holy Motors.
In his vigorous engagement, in the film Pola X (1999), of the almost irresistible misstep of delusions of grandeur in those who would conjure the truly new, Carax induces a brilliant performance from Paris notable, Catherine Deneuve.
In addition to their struggling with the viscosity so powerfully underlined by Bresson, Carax’s films are redolent of the strange and illuminating musicals of Jacques Demy, for whom La Deneuve performed so often and so wonderfully.
A Demy moment in Holy Motors, typically haunting, and here a prelude to suicide.

It is the thrilling intensity of the filmic propulsions which burnishes these harrowing vehicles to a strange upbeat. Moreover, the implication of the narratives in revisiting the dilemmas of Bresson and Demy—Deneuve, for instance, fascinatingly lending muscle and affection to the regality of the incestuous ruler in Donkey Skin; and the part of her son lending muscle and affection to the Princess role, originally played by Deneuve—endow these dark tales with the promise of Surrealist wit and resilience.

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