When he began, in the '80S, Leos Carax was the paradigmatic cerebral movie brat of his day and age, incorporating the older New Wave ethos into the new punk indie vibe and establishing a new generation's bitter, norm-busting way of looking at the world. But by now, with only five features produced and released in the almost 30 years since, Carax has become something altogether different: an incubus haunting the ebb and flow of movie culture, emerging at unpredictable points with irrationally intense films that throb and bewitch in ways unrelated to whatever's cool or avant in art-film circles at the moment. The new Holy Motors (2012; screens February 23 at 7 pm) is merely the most startling example, a Rorschachian journey into a near-future in which life itself is a movie, or a massive matrix of possible movies. Denis Lavant's role-player-demiurge patrols Paris at night in a limo, playing out one disconnected but spectacular scenario after another, and complaining that he liked it better "when you could see the camera." The virtualized quantity we know of as "reality" evaporates like mist, just like our Uncle Jean-Luc had always warned us it would.
Carax was an impulsive Godardian from the very beginning, and Boy Meets Girl (1984; screens February 15 at 7 pm), probably that decade's most entrancing debut, is a Godard Jr. spume of youthful movie love and romantic irony that should set any cinephile's heart on fire. Mauvais Sang (1986; screens February 24 at 7 pm), on the surface a faux-espionage thriller-romance marking the AIDS crisis, is a headlong uptick in crazy invention, in which a somnambulistic Juliette Binoche parachuting out of an airplane, for real, is just the beginning of the amazements.
Every Carax shot is a new way to feel about something, but even so, Les amants du Pont-Neuf (1991; screens February 17 at 4 pm) was a new order of bedazzlement, limning a star-crossed romance between a Seine-loitering acrobat-vagrant (Lavant) and a near-blind artist (Binoche) in a grandly surreal manner that virtually recreates central Paris as a huge living circus. What had been Godardian was now Caraxian; the water-skiing-under-fireworks epiphany alone is worthy of a full-on swoon. It's a divine, one-of-a-kind epic that could hardly be trumped, but Pola X (1999; screens February 15 at 9:15 pm) tries, modernizing Melville's Pierre, or the Ambiguities with manic visual energy, mad melodrama, holy-cow graphic sex scenes, a river of blood, and more. This is cinema on steroids, so prepare to be flattened.
OVERDRIVE: THE FILMS OF LEOS CARAX:: Harvard Film Archive :: February 15-24