The Roku description of this movie goes like this: “In the near future, Paris is devastated by a new AIDS-like disease that infects people who have sex without being in love. Aging thieves Marc and Hans develop a plan to steal a newly devised serum that combats the disease.” So I’m like, okay, so it’s a sci-fi type thing with these thief guys as futuristic Robin Hoods who go on a crusade to help the little people. Thankfully I knew enough about Leos Carax to know it probably wasn’t QUITE like that. Turns out it’s ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like that.
Marc (Michel Piccoli) and Hans are aging thieves whose partner gets killed before they can finish a job and pay off a scary aggressive American lady. She gives them one more chance to pay her back, so they decide to recruit their old partner’s son Alex (Carax regular Denis Lavant) to heist this valuable serum. He’s a disaffected 20ish-year-old who breaks up with his girlfriend (Julie Delpy) to go with the guys, but he isn’t planning to actually do their heist until he falls for Anna (Juliette Binoche), except she’s in a relationship with Marc.
But the plot isn’t really important anyway. I thought the only other Carax film I’d seen was Holy Motors, which mostly baffled me, but it turns out I’ve also see his debut feature Boy Meets Girl, which I really enjoyed (though I need to rewatch it; I remember few details other than I liked it), and this has a similar French New Wave feel. I won’t even tell you how many times I wrote “Godard” or especially “Breathless” and “Alphaville” in my notes. Like a New Wave film, the plot is far less important than the characters, and I would almost say the characters are even less important than just the visceral FEEL of it all.
I hesitate to go into too many details because frankly, there were some times that I zoned out a little bit, and it’s quite possible that there’s more psychological, philosophical, and even sociological depth than I got out of it on a first watch. But there are so many great visual and auditory MOMENTS that just pop out of nowhere. When Hans goes to recruit Alex and a flashing light distracts Hans, leaving Alex in a stationary profile. When the natural light of the city fleetingly illuminates Alex and a cipher of a girl on the subway. When Marc refuses to tell Anna he loves her and Alex fistfights him – they fight in slowmo as Anna watches silently, the soundtrack moving from a dull hum to overwrought classical. When Alex uses absurd magician tricks to cheer Anna up. When Alex runs/dances down the street to Bowie’s Modern Love (a clear precursor to Frances Ha). When Alex’s drunk-like stumbling down the street is matched by a toddler staggering alongside him. When Alex talks with Lise on the phone – she’s in B&W and the film seamlessly switches from her talking to Alex to her talking to Thomas, the friend she’s just cheated with. The rack focus on Anna when she talks about a love letter of Marc’s, and Alex hovers agitatedly behind her (Binoche’s face is a work of art here). The final shot of Anna running toward the camera.
The thing is, I don’t know that any of these shots MEAN anything (maybe I’ll find out they mean a lot when I rewatch), but the other thing is, I don’t care. They’re beautiful in and of themselves, and I’m totally okay with that. Like Godard’s films, Mauvais Sang is somehow both detached and deeply emotional at the same time, and indulges in long conversations about the meaning of love, like Alphaville or Breathless or even Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s. The way the potential crime recedes into the background while often unrelated sections of conversation and music are foregrounded, is reminiscent of Band of Outsiders. None of this is accidental nor unintentional – remember Michel Piccoli is a New Wave standby, and Carax references Rimbaud and Cocteau, who are also touchstones for Godard. Lest we ascribe too much credit in one place, there are also plenty of compositions and moments that call Bergman to mind, as well. And yet Carax is definitely his own filmmaker, pulling from an existing tradition but putting his own particular angst, exuberance, and visual style into it.
The whole thing is visually stunning, with compositions, juxtapositions and lighting effects that will stick with me for a long time. I definitely want to spend more time with this film, and with Carax’s films in general (Holy Motors notwithstanding); I feel like this is underranked at the moment and will only go higher as the scenes I love become familiar friends and I see it enough to grok some of the more difficult sections and connections.
Stats and stuff…
written and directed by Leos Carax
starring Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli, Julie Delpy, Hans Meyer, Carroll Brooks
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Mauvais Sang entered my chart:
Mauvais Sang beats Dementia
Mauvais Sang beats Mystery Men
Mauvais Sang loses to Repulsion
Mauvais Sang beats Dial M for Murder
Mauvais Sang beats HaHaHa
Mauvais Sang loses to La Ronde
Mauvais Sang loses to Dumbo
Mauvais Sang beats Jane Eyre (2011)
Mauvais Sang beats Blackboard Jungle
Mauvais Sang loses to It’s Such a Beautiful Day
Mauvais Sang beats The Lost Weekend
Final ranking #538 out of 3598 films on my chart (85%)
It is now my #1 Leos Carax film, my #1 Denis Lavant film, my #4 Juliette Binoche film, my #2 Julie Delpy film, my #3 Michel Piccoli film, my #26 Crime Drama, and my #2 film of 1986.
Mauvais Sang was recommended by Alex Lovendahl, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook. Averaging together this #538 ranking with my #310 ranking of his other film, Whiplash, gives Alex an average ranking of 424.
A few quotes…
(I’m sure there are a ton more quotes – I was not taking good quote notes because I was too busy taking good lighting/composition notes.)
Lise: You’re not in love. Someday you’ll understand.
Anna: [re: Marc] Life is splendid with him. He guides me so well. He requires of me very beautiful things, very rigorous. You know, he is self-taught. Yes, he has done it all. He looked at me with the eyes of an inventor, with the eyes of a researcher, like I was an invaluable discovery, as if I had the solution to something. Something secret and mysterious that is hidden deep inside him. Sometimes I get so close, so near, but more often I am light years away? Curious, isn’t it? It’s my life, this thing, this thing like an enigma. An enigma that glues us together, both of us accomplices together. Maybe our love will die if it is solved too early or maybe not at all.
Alex: Think there’s a love that burns fast? That burns fast, but lasts forever?
Thomas: You threw sentences like knives and you’re going to pay.
Lise: Did you kill the cop?
Alex: I think so.
Lise: Why? Murder’s for your whole life.
Alex: I think that’s why.
Alex: By the time you learn to live, it’s too late.
A few more screenshots…