The Mad Romance of Leos Carax

The films of French filmmaker Leos Carax will be screening May 23 to June 1 at the Northwest Film Center. The series, entitled Mad Romance: The Films of Leos Carax, will present all five feature-length films that Carax has directed, with multiple screenings of each movie taking place over two consecutive weekends.

The first weekend will feature Carax’s critically acclaimed debut Boy Meets Girl and its follow-up Mauvais Sang. The exhibit will wrap up the next week with Carax’s subsequent films Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf, Pola X and Holy Motors. Mad Romance is a chance to appreciate the skills of one of France’s contemporary film masters in an exhibit spanning the course of Carax’s 30-year filmmaking career.

Carax’s films deal with themes of romance and the complexities of modern life. Often compared to the work of 1960s French New Wave cinema, his films are described by David Thompson in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film as “something like a mixture of [Quentin] Tarantino and [Jean-Luc] Godard of the ’60s, thoroughly caught up in the melodrama of being a Great Moviemaker.” In addition to Tarantino, Carax’s work has been compared to the surreal neo-noir of filmmaker David Lynch.

Northwest Film Center Public Relations and Marketing Assistant Nick Bruno described Carax’s films as playful and experimental.

“The films goad watchers into wanting to unlock what’s going on in the picture,” Bruno said.

“As one dives further into Carax’s career, it becomes apparent that he’s intentionally obscuring the audience’s understanding of what’s going on, rather than spoon-feeding plot points and the mundane info of the everyday.”

The NWFC’s website further describes Carax as the “‘bad boy’ and ‘boy genius’ of French cinema,” who has gone on to achieve much success and critical acclaim in the world of French movies. The website also notes the playful and expressionistic nature of Carax’s work, his “distinctive romantic fatalism,” and “his characters [who] encounter worlds full of alienation, chaos and tragic love.”

Boy Meets Girl (1984)
Friday, May 23 at 6:45 p.m.
Saturday, May 24 at 8:45 p.m.
Sunday, May 25 at 7 p.m.

Carax started out as a critic at the groundbreaking French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma before turning to filmmaking at the age of 23, first with a series of short films, and eventually releasing his first feature Boy Meets Girl in 1984. Hailed by critics for its romantic and surreal style, it tells the story of Alex and Mireille, two lonely misanthropes in Paris who meet and fatefully fall in love. The movie marks the beginning of a collaboration between Carax and actor Denis Lavant, who would go on to star in four of Carax’s five films.

The Northwest Film Center’s website describes Boy Meets Girl as “the most impressive French debut since Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless,” a distinct nod to the master of the French Nouvelle Vague.

Mauvais Sang (1986)
Friday, May 23 at 9 p.m.
Saturday, May 24 at 6 p.m.
Sunday, May 25 at 4:30 p.m.

Mauvais Sang, the 1986 follow-up to Carax’s debut Boy Meets Girl, details a future Paris where a mysterious AIDS-like disease is killing young people who make love without feeling love. The film, taking its title from a poem by French symbolist master Arthur Rimbaud, is a dark and thrilling turn for Carax after his first film. Mauvais Sang is a kind of New Wave crime movie featuring prominent French actress Juliette Binoche—who has appeared in the works of cinematic masters such as Godard and Krzysztof Kieslowski—in the lead as Anna.

Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf (1991)
Thursday, May 29 at 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 1 at 4:30 p.m.

Carax’s most successful film to date, Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf, released in 1991, is the tale of vagrants and lovers Alex (Lavant) and Michèle (Binoche). The two inhabit the Pont-Neuf, Paris’ oldest remaining bridge, located in the historical heart of the city near the Île de la Cité, the island on the Seine which is home to the famous Notre-Dame cathedral.

Despite the difficulties and expenses encountered while filming on one of Paris’ popular tourist locations, the film, like Carax’s other movies, was met with critical acclaim for its portrayal of the harsh, romantic lives of its main characters.

Holy Motors (2012)
Saturday, May 31 at 7 p.m.

Carax’s most recent film, Holy Motors, was released in 2012 and was in competition for the Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film, a dark and bizarre French-German production, received many positive reviews upon its initial release, being named best film of the year by Cahiers du Cinéma, the very magazine where Carax began his career as a film critic.

The story follows one Mr. Oscar through a series of strange, transformative scenarios, where he appears as “a twisted dwarf, an elderly crone, a knife fighter, a hitman, a dying uncle, a forlorn lover, and more,” according to the NWFC.

Pola X (1999)
Friday, May 30 at 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 1 at 7:15 p.m.

Mad Romance will wrap up on the evening of June 1 with Carax’s 1999 drama Pola X. Based on Herman Melville’s critically panned novel Pierre: or, the Ambiguities, Pola X stars Guillaume Depardieu, son of prominent French character actor Gerard Depardieu.

The story details the incestuous relationship between young novelist Pierre and a woman who claims to be his half-sister. Pierre throws away his marriage plans and his life of wealth and success in an explicit and provocative tale of romantic passion, a fitting thematic finale for the exhibit.