It’s exciting and even a little touching to hear the first ecstatic reviews of Leos Carax’s new film Holy Motors, his first in thirteen years. This is, after all, the same festival at which his last feature film—the excoriating, indulgent, and totally uncompromising Pola X—was resoundingly booed, and probably the same set of critics, distributors, and industry mavens that dismissed Carax after his financially disastrous, but utterly beatific masterpiece The Lovers on the Bridge(1991). The fall-out from these two films effectively halted the career of a director once regarded as the most original and influential voices in French cinema since Godard, leaving him with only scarce projects and without any industry support for a decade.
But no matter. Carax is back, and it sounds like the euphoria and pure, unadulterated love of cinema that characterized his first three rapturous films—1984’s Boy Meets Girl, 1986’s Mauvais sang, and Lovers—is in full force. Here’s the trailer:
If you saw Carax’s insane contribution to the (actually quite good) omnibus film Tokyo!, you’ll recognize the sewer-dwelling demon Merde, played by the brilliant Denis Levant, who was also the star of Carax’s first three films. Levant plays something like eleven roles in the new film, including Merde, who apparently licks Eva Mendes’s armpit, amongst other things.
I got the chance to interview Carax (along with some other French dude) when he was in New York promoting Tokyo! back in 2008, and he described Levant as “both a dancer and a sculpture.” I think you can see a little of what he means from this amazing scene from Mauvais sang (which features “‘L’Amour moderne’ par David Bowie”):
(See also the incredible final shot from Claire Denis’s Beau Travail. I won’t ruin it for you—just see the film.)
Lovers, Pola X, and Tokyo!, are all available on DVD in the U.S., and you can watch a couple of Carax’s short films on YouTube (including a hilarious music video for a New Order song), but his two earliest features are currently unavailable, a situation that has to change. But if you happen to be in New York and available tonight, however, you can catch a rare screening of Boy Meets Girl at BAM.
Finally, here’s a little more from Carax himself on the new film, courtesy of the film’s press kit:
“Holy Motors was born of my incapacity to carry out several projects, all of them in another language and another country. They all ran into the same two obstacles: casting and cash. Fed up with not being able to film, I used Merde, which had been commissioned in Japan, as inspiration. I commissioned myself to make a project under the same conditions, but in France—come up with an inexpensive film, quickly, for a pre-selected actor. All of it made possible by digital cameras, which I despise (they are imposing themselves or being imposed on us), but which seem to reassure everyone. There’s never any initial idea or intention behind a film, but rather a couple of images and feelings that I splice together. For Holy Motors, one of the images I had in mind was of these stretch limousines that have appeared in the last few years. I first saw them in america and now every Sunday in my neighborhood in Paris for Chinese weddings. They’re completely in tune with our times—both showy and tacky. They look good from the outside, but inside there’s the same sad feeling as in a whores’ hotel. They still touch me, though. They’re outdated, like the old futurist toys of the past. I think they mark the end of an era, the era of large, visible machines. These cars very soon became the heart of the film – its motor, if I may put it that way. I imagined them as long vessels carrying humans on their final journeys, their final assignments. The film is therefore a form of science fiction, in which humans, beasts and machines are on the verge of extinction—“sacred motors” linked together by a common fate and solidarity, slaves to an increasingly virtual world. a world from which visible machines, real experiences and actions are gradually disappearing.”