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In the kitchen at parties
A UK region 2 DVD review of BOY MEETS GIRL from The Leos Carax Collection by Slarek
 

Leos Carax's first feature is certainly true to its title. This promised encounter is being prepared for from the opening scenes, as we are presented with two lives in transition and for whom loneliness is either destructive or an unacceptable state of being. It's not an even balance – one will find the other, but there's the suggestion that maybe that other doesn't want to be found. Although made in 1984, stylistically the film has a flavour of the Novelle Vague, from its monochrome photography and its lead actress's late story 60s-style cropped haircut, to the Godardian use of mid-shot black inserts, but its sense of alienation and detachment are as 80s as they come.

It starts intriguingly, with a woman taking a night-time drive to throw the paintings and poems of the man she has just walked out on into the river. Before she does so, she phones the man to tell him what she's about to do. This actually triggered an odd memory for me. Years ago I fought tiredness to stay up late and provide moral support for a female friend who had promised her boyfriend, who was on tour with his band, that she'd record every episode of a TV series that he loved. They were being screened at something like 1.00am, but she stayed up and recorded them rather than set the timer because he wanted the ad breaks edited out. The things we do for love, huh? One night she turned to me and with the prettiest of smiles said: "You know when relationships deteriorate to that point where you start to hate each other and you know that the only logical thing to do is leave? I've already decided that when that happens to us, before I go I'm going to wipe every one of his video tapes." She still loved him and yet she was already planning her punishment for his later failings. As it turned out, it was she that eventually cheated on him.

The point of this little aside, if indeed it had one, relates to that thing that movies sometimes do so well, stage a small moment that touches you in unexpected ways, that draws you in not through its characters or storytelling per se, but through a sort of created kinship that suggests you and the filmmaker have shared an experience, a first-step connection to the story to be told. In Boy Meets Girl, I'd just taken that step. A short while after we're introduced to the jilted lover Alex (Carax regular Denis Lavant), who after lamenting his loss to his best friend Thomas, attacks and attempts to strangle him for being the one that his girlfriend left him for. There are playful little moments here that continue the intrigue, as Thomas struggles to pull out a knife only to find he's too weak to use it. When it falls to the ground, Alex releases him out of surprise that his best friend should do something as outrageous as pull a weapon on him.

Also busting up with her partner is Mireille (Mireille Perrier), her parting conversation with ex-lover Bernard conducted over an apartment intercom and witnessed by chance by the mesmerised Alex, who has taken to wandering the streets to get his head straight. He follows Bernard to a bar packed with pinball machines and whose ambience is dominated by an old man bellowing his name into a phone for someone who is clearly unable to spell it ("Bouriana! That's B as in Bouriana, O as in ouriana, U as in uriana...!"). Alex's exact intentions as he sidles up beside Bernard at the bar are teasingly uncertain, but when Bernard drops a piece of paper Alex pounces on it, then buying a coffee for a woman comically taller than himself to conceal his actions. The paper turns out to be an invitation to a party, one that both he and the film put aside for a while.

All of this and more unfolds with a mixture of casually paced cinematic detachment and offbeat asides, a technique that works well for a while but loses a little of its charm once you begin to suspect that this is about as close to Alex as we're likely to get. We watch him rather than feel for him, with the only real windows into his personality at this stage provided by a phone call from his father angrily reminding him of a particularly grim pact the two have agreed on, and a map he has drawn on the wall detailing the significant moments of his life. These include his place of birth, his first shoplifting experience, his first meeting and first kiss with the departed Florence, as well as his first lie to her (which takes place at Pont-Neuf, the famed location of the director's most notorious work). He is now able to add "first murder attempt."

From his initial encounter with her voice, Alex seems almost mystically drawn to Mireille, memorably realised as he walks the streets, his eyes closed and his arms outstretched with David Bowie's When I Live My Dream blasting in his ears (his weighty tape recorder and huge headphones will probably look to younger viewers like a Flintstones iPod). This is intercut with Mireille tap dancing in a moment of rarely observed contentment, lost in her movements and a song she cannot hear – earlier we watch her roll her head furiously to The Dead Kennedys' Holiday in Cambodia, similarly detached from the real world until interrupted by Bernard's blast on the intercom.

The party at which Alex and Mireille are destined to meet cranks the cinematic temperature down a couple more notches while continuing to flirt with the offbeat, such as the baby-filled telephone room or the deaf-mute old man who regales Alex with tales of his time as a dolly grip in the days of silent cinema. This is a strangely gloomy gathering, the sort of function David Lynch might attend if he was spending his last year at Marienbad, an atmosphere that reflects the suppressed despair of its American hostess. When Alex and Mireille finally, properly meet, we are presented with the flipside of the standard romantic pay-off, with conversation and self-analysis taking the place of the emotional connection that the film has seemingly been building to, an intellectualisation of an essentially irrational emotion that Mireille no longer appears capable of or interested in feeling. It's a long (the party constitutes most of the film's second half) but nonetheless curiously involving exchange, a self-examination of two lives that I have little doubt is drawn from Carax's own experience. It has, after all, long since been accepted that Levant's Alex is the director's on-screen representative in his first three features.

More than once I've seen Boy Meets Girl described as dreary, an assessment I'd emphatically disagree with. Despite the melancholia and depression suffered by its characters, a certain cinematic coldness created in part by Jean-Yves Escoffier's beautifully steely monochrome photography, and an ending that plays more like the climax of a dark dance piece that naturalistic film drama, Boy Meets Girl is an often intriguing, sometimes dream-like and, just occasionally, blackly humorous drift through a chilly landscape of youthful angst. But the film's key asset has to be Denis Levant, without question one of the most interesting faces in European cinema and a model here of buried frustrations and uncertainty. It's his controlled but enigmatic performance and the impulsive desires of his character that most clearly signal the direction that Carax was to head with his next two films.

sound and vision

Framed 1.66:1 and anamorphically enhanced, the transfer here is just lovely, doing real justice to Escoffier's beautiful black and white cinematography. Contrast and detail are excellent, and black levels, so important to the look here, are perfect. Tonally the transfer has just the right feel to it – there's never the sense that anything has been lost to the shadows or highlights.

As with all of the films in the collection, the only audio option here is French Dolby 2.0, in this case a mono track. It's clear enough, though its dynamic range is a little limited.

extra features

Introduction by Denis Lavant (8:09)
Not the retrospective look back you might think from the title, this was shot on low band video at, I'm guessing, the casting or pre-shooting stage. It features the 22-year-old Lavant introducing himself and talking about the character of Alex, but having to do so with Bowie's When I Live My Dream blasting in his ears through headphones. A little explanation of Carax's motivation for this would have been nice.

On Set "In the Kitchen" (17:36)
An odd one this, a record of some of the kitchen shoot, but filmed by pointing the camera at the playback monitor screen, which restricts the viewpoint and is not exactly sparkling quality. It's interest value is, well, not that great, despite the pre and post take moments caught.

summary

A film that has grown on me with successive viewings, where its qualities, not to mention its sly humour, have become more evident. It's still an admittedly downbeat piece, but a seductively made and always interesting one, and it looks just lovely on Artificial Eye's DVD. Of the three films in the set, Mauvais Sang is definitely my favourite, but Boy Meets Girl comes in a respectable second.

Boy Meets Girl
The Leos Carax Collection

France 1984
100 mins
director
Leos Carax
starring
Denis Lavant
Mireille Perrier
Carroll Brooks
Elie Poicard

DVD details
region 2
video
1.66:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
French
subtitles
English
extras
Introduction by Denis Lavant
On Set featurette
distributor
Artificial Eye
release date
23 April 2007
review posted
7 May 2007

related reviews:
The Leos Carax Collection overview
Mauvais Sang / The Night is Young
Pola X

Sell all of Slarek's reviews