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“He’s like a mysterious breeze,” says Kylie Minogue of the subject of Mr leos CaraX, the feature debut of French documentary director Tessa Louise-Salome, whose efforts to decrypt the director of films such as Les Amants du Pont-Neuf and Holy Motors result in a talking-head documentary that offers an enticing, if not extremely insightful, overview of the maverick filmmaker’s work.
Louise-Salome directed the behind-the-scenes material of Carax’s latest feature, the Cannes contender Holy Motors, before tackling this work, which presents the director’s films in chronological order, commented by critics including Richard Brody, Kent Jones and former Cannes president Gilles Jacob; actors including Carax’s leading man and fictional factotum, Denis Lavant and crew members that have worked with him, including cinematographer Caroline Champetier and photographer Marion Stalens (also the sister of actress Juliette Binoche, the female lead of his Mauvais Sang as well as Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, the latter a film that many have suggested is the French equivalent of such re-appraised disasters as Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate).
This procession of interviews and clips, which was reportedly rushed to completion for its Sundance and Rotterdam premieres but will be reworked to include more material, should be especially appreciated at festivals and will also find a home at cinema-loving TV channels such as co-producing Arte.
Early on, stars Mireille Perrier and Lavant reminisce about Carax’s first feature, the black-and-white Boy Meets Girl from 1984, and for those unfamiliar with this early work it’s immediately clear that the hallmarks of the work of Carax — whose real name is Alex Dupont, a useful titbit of information, as Brody points out, since a lot of his protagonists are called Alex — including its striking, occasionally dream-like imagery, physical comedy and undercurrent of profound sadness, are already fully present here.
A per-film discussion of his features, only five in total over a career of 30 years, sheds some light on the director’s universe and work; though there are more anecdotes and general observations than any real or new insights, with Jacob perhaps making the most pertinent remark when he says that Carax’s films are “pure poetry” and “imagination” and that it’s impossible and pointless to try and attempt to describe the plot of his films. This documentary suggests that that sentiment can be extended to his work in general; if anything, Tessa Louise-Salome proves that talking or hearing about Carax’s films is not half as interesting as actually watching and experiencing them.
In keeping with the general aura of mystery surrounding the press-shy director, he doesn’t appear as an interviewee himself, though the film works around that by splicing in snippets from older audio interviews that add a first-person perspective. A couple of key names are also missing, including Binoche, who is seen in archival interview footage, though this might have something to do with the fact Carax had the habit of falling in love with his leading ladies (Binoche’s sibling, Stalens, seems partly given so much space to make up for this). Some of the other talking heads also add relatively little to conversation or might have been unjustly truncated; Harmony Korine speaks generally about Carax as a director, a subject he’s doesn’t seem to have any first-hand experience of, given that his only collaboration with him was when Carax acted (rather than directed) in Korine’s Mister Lonely.
Louise-Salome films her talking heads in an artistic, semi-darkness at the start of their interviews, lending the film an arty look that, together with the numerous clips from Carax’s work, ensures there’s at least a lot of eye candy to go ‘round.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Documentary Competition)
Production companies: Petite Maison Production, Arte France, Theo Films
Director: Tessa Louise-Salome
Screenwriters: Tessa Louise-Salome, Chantal Perrin, Adrien Walter
Producers: Tessa Louise-Salome, Chantal Perrin
Executive producer: Segolene Fleury
Director of photography: Kaname Onoyoma
Music: Gael Rakotondrabe
Editors: Laureline Attali, Gabriel Humeau, Tessa Louise-Salome
Sales: Films Distribution
No rating, 75 minutes.
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