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A girl and a gun
A UK region 2 DVD review of MAUVAIS SANG / BAD BLOOD / THE NIGHT IS YOUNG
from The Leos Carax Collection by Slarek
 

As many have noted, Leos Carax's second feature Mauvais sang (Bad Blood, but also known by the rather limp title used here, The Night is Young) bears a great many similarities to the director's feature debut Boy Meets Girl. Both feature Denis Lavant as a young man named Alex who is at the end of a relationship and becomes fixated on a woman just out of his reach; both owe a stylistic debt to the films of the Nouvelle Vague (Godard in particular); both take place in the heat of summer and feature long conversations on love and relationships; and both make exuberant use of a track by David Bowie. That last one may seem like a tenuous connection, but the Bowie track in both films is particularly memorable. I'll be coming back to the one here soon.

This time around Alex is the son of Jean, a key member of a small and ageing criminal gang who owe money to a female crime boss known only as The American Woman (Carroll Brooks, who played the party host in Boy Meets Girl). They have a job planned to pay off the debt that involves stealing a culture of an AIDS-like virus from a drug company that is working on a cure and selling it to the competition, a robbery for which Jean's quick hands are essential. When Jean falls under a subway train in what might just be murder, his two colleagues approach his estranged son, whose lightning hands are otherwise occupied pulling Three Card Monte grifts on street corners. He's initially uninterested, but with his father dead and the morgue chasing him to identify the body, he could use the money to leave his 16-year-old girlfriend Lise and start a new life elsewhere. On route to meet up with surviving gang members Marc and Hans, he becomes entranced by a beautiful young woman who boards his bus, later revealed to be Anna (Juliette Binoche), the 29 year-old lover of the considerably older Marc. The plan is outlined and the following morning Alex is taken for his first parachute jump, a practice run for his eventual departure to Switzerland. Marc pressures Anna into making the jump with him, despite her terror of heights. When she faints on the way down, it's Alex who sees her safely to earth.

Now up until this point, those similarities between this film and its predecessor seem trivial at best. Mauvais sang is livelier, faster paced, and boasts somewhat more adventurous camerawork and editing. Like Boy Meets Girl it hooks you on intrigue, but the hook here bites deep and doesn't let go, delivering a terrific first 30 minutes that sets up the story and characters in stylish, compelling and sometimes breathless fashion. But following a fight between Alex and Marc (you can probably guess what sparks it, but not why), the film shifts from fifth gear right down to first and stays there for the next half-hour, as Alex and Anna talk about love and relationships, and Alex declares his feelings for a woman who's resolutely in love with someone else. This is essentially a reworking of the kitchen scene from Boy Meets Girl and here the two films are clearly the work of the same director, who was then young enough to still be musing over these very issues in his own life. If you found the earlier version heavy going then you're likely to groan most of the way through this, and even if you didn't then you'll still probably find yourself prickling with déjà-vu. As with the kitchen scene in its predecessor, it's still well enough written and performed to hold the interest – it's the gear change that provides the initial jolt, the sudden slowing of pace bringing the film momentarily close to a stall. A brief burst of nitrous oxide is provided by the aforementioned Bowie track – as Modern Love blast from the radio, Alex runs, dances and cartwheels down the street in a skin-pricklingly exuberant tracking shot, brought to a sudden halt when a song that is now out of his earshot is unexpectedly switched off.

The pace picks up and the narrative complicates as the robbery approaches, with the reappearance of old friends and new enemies and an uncertainty just where Alex's loyalties ultimately lie. From here on in the story is developed in highly satisfying manner and laced with unexpected incident and inventive and effective directorial flourishes. The real kicker is the final scene, which delivers the sort of story round-off and emotional punch that the more stylised conclusion of Boy Meets Girl gives no indication Carax was even interested in, let alone so ably capable of pulling off. And the switch from monochrome to Fujicolor stock clearly presented no problems for cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier, whose lighting, framing and use of colour is little short of gorgeous.

The performances are all nicely judged and effectively underplayed, but once again it's Denis Lavant who shines the brightest. His distinctive and expressive face at times has an almost elven quality, like a creature who has wandered out of Legend's fairyland onto the streets of Paris to become smitten with a princess of human form, one captivating played by the perfectly cast Juliette Binoche. Completing the quartet are Hans Meyer (who makes a brief appearance as an American astronaut in Boy Meets Girl) and veteran actor Michel Piccoli, who make Hans and Marc respectively both likeable and believable, middle-aged criminals whose best years may be behind them but whose past deeds are still all too visible in their faces, words and body language.

It's a risky move to follow a well-regarded debut film with one that treads a similar path using many of the same actors, but in Mauvais sang Carax develops and expands on the themes of Boy Meets Girl to such a degree that the earlier film looks in retrospect almost like a trial run, a detailed sketch of ideas that are more fully developed here. The small comic asides and deviations from reality are still on board, not least in Alex's attempts to cheer up Anna with increasingly impossible conjuring tricks, and there are post-modernist references to films of years past, from Max Sennett comedies and Chaplin's The Kid to the high contrast expressionistic lighting of 40s film noir. It's a rich and stimulating brew that just about carries its mid-story slow-down, and points the way to the film that has ended up, for better or worse, as the one that ended up defining Carax's career to date – Les Amants du Pont-Neuf.

sound and vision

1.66:1 and anamorphically enhanced, this is another lovely transfer for the Leos Carax Collection. Colours are vibrant, detail and contrast both very pleasing and the black levels solid. The picture has a nicely film-like quality that splendidly showcases Jean-Yves Escoffier's cinematography.

The soundtrack is Dolby 2.0 mono, which is true to the original film mix, and perfectly clear with a reasonable dynamic range.

extra features

Outtakes and Rushes (20:22)
An enjoyable blend of 8mm behind-the-scenes footage, unused shots from the film and outtakes, which are certainly funnier than those on the Police Squad DVD. There's some particularly revealing footage of the filming of the parachute jump, an ingenious rig to grab a shot that would now be done with CGI. I didn't mention above the pains Carax goes to in orer to show us that his actors really did the jump themselves – the two near-misses for the stunt drivers here illustrate how wrong that could have gone.

Trailer (2:07)
Assembled with little regard for flow, but gives a taste of the film.

Deleted Scene (5:24)
A long exchange between Marc and Alex by quayside in its edited form, in which Marc a reveals a little about his world view and his advancing years and looks back at times past.

summary

It's been a while since I last saw Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, so it's hard to say for certain if that remains my favourite Carax film or whether Mauvais Sang has stolen its crown. Either way, for my money it's the best reason of all to own this set – the transfer is terrific and it even has the best extra feature.

Mauvais sang
Bad Blood / The Night is Young
The Leos Carax Collection

France 1986
114 mins
director
Leos Carax
starring
Michel Piccoli
Juliette Binoche
Denis Lavant
Hans Meyer
Julie Delpy

DVD details
region 2
video
1.66:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
French
subtitles
English
extras
Outtakes and rushes
Trailer
Deleted scene
distributor
Artificial Eye
release date
23 April 2007

review posted
8 May 2007

The Leos Carax Collection
The Leos Carax Collection overview
Boy Meets Girl
Pola X

related review
Tôkyô

See all of Slarek's reviews