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Conversations about love
An overview of THE LEOS CARAX COLLECTION UK region 2 DVD set by Slarek

Mention the name Leos Carax, even in European cineaste circles, and you're likely to encounter distinctly mixed reactions. He made is first feature film in 1984 when he was just 24 years old and has been acclaimed in some quarters as a genius, despite having only three more movies since. Maybe a genius needs time to create just the right project. Yeah, sure, that must be it. Actually, that whole thing of hailing any filmmaker as a genius cuts no slack with me. It's an overused term too quickly thrown at anyone whose name is attached to something that catches critical fire, and if you're daft enough to stick such a label on a 24-year-old first-timer then there's a real danger they might start to believe it themselves. I'm not saying that's the case with Leos Carax, mind you, but it's something to be both aware and wary of.

As some will doubtless know, Leos Carax is not this filmmaker's real name. He was born Alexandre Dupont but chose the nom-de-plume Leos Carax, apparently in slightly comic reference to the American Academy Awards (Le Oscar à X – the Oscar goes to X). Right. Carax started his career making short films and writing film criticism before making his first feature Boy Meets Girl in 1984, which was critically well received and nominated for César Award for Best First Work the following year. It's a film that effectively established would could be called the Carax style, his recurring themes of troubled and sometimes unrequited love and the problematic nature of relationships, coupled with the influence of the Nouvelle Vague, particularly the films of Jean-Luc Godard. It also featured some of the actors he was to re-use in his next two films, notably the striking young Denis Levant, effectively Carax's alter-ego for all three films and whose character name is always Alex, an abbreviation of Carax's own real first name. Beautiful to look at, intriguing to watch but always a little detached from its characters, Boy Meets Girl is still an auspicious debut for so young a filmmaker.

His second film, Mauvais sang (Bad Blood, but here titled The Night is Young), was released in 1986 and expanded on the first film's style, themes and narrative, incorporating a similar tale of unrequited love into a briskly handled crime story. Technically assured, it included the sort of inventive directorial flourishes that for many confirmed Carax's talent, though its busier editing and genre-based storytelling disappointed a few of the first film's more ardent fans. For my money, this is the film in which Carax really found his feet as a director and I'd heartily recommend it to anyone looking to see what all the fuss is about. Just be ready to have the narrative put on hold mid-way for young couple at the story's centre to have a half-hour chat about the nature of love. Yep, you heard me. It's actually more interesting than it sounds, but does require an adjustment after superb first act that precedes it.

It was after this that things all started going wrong for young Carax. Not included in this Collection but available on UK DVD anyway from Arrow Films, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (known in the US as The Lovers on the Bridge) has been likened to Francis Coppola's One From the Heart for the escalating cost of its budget, the scale of its supposed folly and the effect it had on the director's subsequent career. Having obtained permission from the French authorities to shoot for 10 days on the Pont-Neuf bridge (Carax had wanted 3 months), production delays (including an injury suffered by leading man Denis Lavant) saw this location time evaporate. Carax's response was to transport the entire production to the South of France and recreate the bridge and surrounding buildings as a huge set. The budget spiralled to approximately four times its original estimate to become one of the most expensive French films to date. A visually striking work, it bemused as many as it entranced, and its less than stellar box-office performance and uneven critical reception effectively put Carax's career on hold for the next eight years.

He returned in 1989 with Pola X, an adaptation of Herman Melville's Pierre: or, The Ambiguities and was a departure from his previous works in a number of ways. Despite its Palme D'Or nomination at Cannes, critical reception varied from lukewarm to openly hostile, with its detractors describing it as depressing, self-indulgent, pretentious and monotonous. Despite its problems, it really deserves better than that, and as part of this three-film collection from Artificial Eye can at least be evaluated, for better or worse, alongside the director's earlier work.

Carax is too often known only for one film, hardly surprising since it's the most widely discussed and seen, and that's the very one not included in this set. It's certainly the first Carax film I saw and the one that tuned me in to the work of a man who may not be the genius that some have claimed, but is certainly a filmmaker of distinctive and sometimes striking talent. I can't help but be particularly intrigued by his next project, Tôkyô, a three-story work set in Japan's capital that teams Carax with fellow Frenchman Michael Gondry and Memories of Murder and The Host director Bong Joon-ho.

Artificial Eye's three-film set consists of Boy meets Girl, The Night is Young (Mauvais sang) and Pola X. All three have been handsomely transferred, each with Dolby 2.0 soundtracks. Pola X loses out to Fox Lorber's US release on this score and should by rights have included that disc's 5.1 track. Each of the films is supported by limited extra features, which are covered in the individual reviews.

If you've never seen a Leos Carax film then I can make no guarantees, as here is one director whose films are definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea. But if you warmed to Les Armant du Pont-Neuf or are just intrigued by the director's reputation as a French enfant terrible, then I have no problems heartily recommending this set. If you're new to the films or the director, want information on the disc quality and extra features, or just want to see if we disagree on the films themselves, then follow the links below to access reviews of the individual films.

The films:

Boy Meets Girl

Mauvais sang [The Night is Young]

Pola X

The Leos Carax Collection

France / Switzerland / Germany / Japan 1984-1999
region 2
Leos Carax

See individual reviews for plot summaries, technical details and extras.

Artificial Eye
release date
23 April 2007
review posted
7 May 2007

The Leos Carax Collection:
Boy Meets Girl
Mauvais Sang / The Night is Young
Pola X

related review

See all of Slarek's reviews