1 Hr., 56 Mins.
Mauvais Sang / The Lovers on the Bridge August 30, 2018
Although the premises of both were familiar, Malick’s presentation, marked by ethereal photography and subtly transcendental undercurrents, was unprecedented. Alongside the epochal filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, and others, Malick was unofficially named one of the figures who helped establish the New Hollywood wave — a time period during which young artists were redefining the familiar stories and themes popularized in the preceding decades through idiosyncratic, and at that point unseen, visions.
Malick’s post-Days of Heaven self-imposed exile added to what would come to be something of a mystique. How could this artist, who was only a few years into his 30s, helm this iconic distich and then promptly disappear? It seemed almost celestial, to see and conquer and then move on unceremoniously.
The French filmmaker Leos Carax, born Alexander Oscar Dupont (his nom de plume is an anagram of his first and middle names), at one time also appeared to be among the most promising of filmmakers, too. His entrée to feature filmmaking, Boy Meets Girl, from 1984, would come to be recognizable for its kinetic, Godardian visual style, juxtaposed with a sad-sack storyline. As would two follow-ups, the sci-fi-parodying Mauvais Sang, from 1986, and the oft-aggressive, tragicomic love story The Lovers on the Bridge (1991).
In 1989, the critic Raphaël Bassan, then employed by the now-defunct French film magazine La Revue du Cinéma, pitted the works of Carax against those of the thoroughly modern Jean-Jacques Beineix (1981’s Diva) and the then-mellowed Luc Besson (1985’s Subway). He declared that, together, the filmmakers made up a new filmmaking movement called cinéma du look, which comprised style-over-substance pieces that placed alienated, and usually lower-class, youths in front of gritty — albeit hyper-stylized — settings in modern-day France.
In the wake of the declaration, though, Carax, who was acclaimed but nonetheless victimized by uneven box-office returns, had difficulty building on the unsolicited hype. Notoriously, The Lovers on the Bridge went over budget and could not make its money back in its native France. It wouldn’t be released in the United States until 1999, where it was repurposed by Miramax. That same year, Carax would release Pola X, an overlong romantic melodrama featuring uncensored sex. That, too, flopped. The auteur would not make a movie again for nearly 15 years.
It is easy to see the parallels between the careers of the otherwise opposite Carax and Malick. Both are prone to taking prodigious breaks; both, despite being so influential and ascribed to a particular era, have rather diminutive filmographies to work off; and both, in spite of their undependability, are beloved.
Carax’s second film, Mauvais Sang, which stars his muse, the acrobat-turned-actor Denis Lavant, and his long-time lover, Juliette Binoche, was subjected to a semi-re-release at the 2013 New York Film Festival. To go along with Holy Motors, Carax’s triumphant 2012 comeback, the festival additionally hosted screenings of the former film and Carax’s debut. A DVD release followed.
“Ecstatic” is an adjective often used when describing the writer-director’s films. In the case of Mauvais Sang, it is a fitting descriptor. A breakneck melding of film noir, dystopian science fiction, and salad-day romance, it is reminiscent of the early movies of Jean-Luc Godard. It combines, and reinvents, stock genres, and further refreshes them by having them lived in by characters who can only be described as young and carefree.
In the future-set Mauvais Sang, Lavant plays Alex, a naïve criminal who is convinced by the aging crook Marc (Michel Piccoli) to help him and his associate, Hans (Hans Meyer), steal an all-important serum for an American blackmailer (Carroll Brooks). That the movie is set in the 2050s is pivotal: in this imagined world, an HIV-like virus is targeting youths who engage with sex without love. The vaunted serum is, thus far, the only cure for the malady.
What comes is hardly a heist movie, however: Like Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s raving 1992 debut, Mauvais Sang is most concerned with the pre-stages and aftermath of the much-discussed crime. We do see the offense unfold, but more indispensable in the feature is the romance which eventually develops between Alex, who is already involved with Lise (Julie Delpy), a blonde teenager, and Marc’s much-younger mistress, Anna (Binoche).
The majority of Mauvais Sang constitutes Alex and Anna’s getting to know one another the night before the heist, which Carax advances through outré, but involving, exchanges. In the film’s most famous scene (which was mimicked, in 2013, by Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha), Alex, overwhelmed by his desire for Anna, cavorts on the street to the sounds of David Bowie’s “Modern Love" (1983).
It is the stressing of the connection between these disparate people that makes Mauvais Sang, and so much of cinéma du look holistically, so likable. The visual style might be emphasized (neon-blue and red are rife here), and conventional sequences of suspense might be underlined. But a cogent depiction of a burgeoning relationship is what lasts. And Lavant and Binoche, who are often photographed in close-up, have a relaxed chemistry.
efore taking a 20-year hiatus from filmmaking, the American director Terrence Malick had managed to make two movies that would have a lasting impact on modern cinema. His debut, 1973’s Badlands, was a lovers-on-the-run fantasy that poeticized the defining characteristics of films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967). His sophomore effort, 1978’s Days of Heaven, rhapsodized the circumstances surrounding a grasslands-bound, turn-of-the-century-era love triangle.
Klaus Michael Grüber
2 Hrs., 5 Mins.
“landlord” is Hans (Klaus Michael Grüber), a bedraggled cynic. They support themselves through Alex’s fire-breathing act, and small robberies here and there.
Alex and Michèle are wrapped up in a romantic relationship that comes to look more uglily co-dependent as the film progresses. As Michèle’s vision gets worse — a result of a rare disease — she becomes more reliant on her lover, necessarily so. Alex, though, exhibits dangerously possessive behavior. Even after discovering that the police are looking for Michèle, who is “missing,” and that her eyesight could be fixed by surgery, he obscures these truths in a misguided attempt to keep her to himself.
The Lovers on the Bridge is not as ebullient as Mauvais Sang. It is, mostly, exactly what it sounds like: an unromanticized street piece. A couple innovative stylistic flourishes almost make it worth a look, though. In one excessive, but breathtaking, sequence — the “Modern Love” tableau of the film, even — Alex and Michèle steal a police boat, and the latter water-skis as fireworks blast in the background. In another spectacular — albeit infuriating — progression, Alex sets a parade of posters traveling down a hallway (all of which are framed, Michèle-focused “Have You Seen This Woman?” placards) alight. It is a glorious inferno.
But two great scenes do not a good movie make. The slack is understandable, however: Production was troubled — much more costly, and time-consuming, than Carax had anticipated. It is unnecessarily lengthy, too: this material, driven by a romance I was increasingly wary of, is not equipped to be elongated to two hours.
But Carax is the rare sort of filmmaker who manages to be impressive even at his most unsuccessful. A movie like the cohesive Mauvais Sang, then, is exceptional, while something like The Lovers on the Bridge is spottily inspired. His next project, his first in six years, will be Annette, an avant-garde musical that will star the long-limbed Adam Driver and be penned by the cult pop-rock duo Sparks. It is set for release later this year. The musical and the stylistically indefatigable Carax seem a match made in heaven — fingers crossed the project proves victorious.
Mauvais Sang: A-
The Lovers on the Bridge: C+
he actors and their director would collaborate again, in 1991, on The Lovers on the Bridge, a sometimes-dazzling, but mostly cluttered, street drama. Usually, it is either considered a disaster or revered as an oft-overlooked masterpiece. Lavant and Binoche, respectively, are reimagined as a drug-addled street performer again named Alex and a blinding painter named Michèle. Both are homeless, and have taken to the under-construction Pont Neuf bridge as their provisional place of shelter. Their