I cannot tell a lie. Prior to 2012’s “Holy Motors,” I had never seen a film by the filmmaker Leos Carax. I had heard his name bandied about, mostly by arrogant film snobs who, if you said you didn’t know who Leos Carax was, would scoff at you, thus rendering you a mere simpleton too afraid to ask what he’s all about. But I think I’m not alone in my cinematic blank spot regarding Carax, as he’s had a long career, but a fairly sporadic and elusive one. “Mr leos caraX,” is a well-made and informative doc by Tessa Louise-Salomé that goes a long way towards bringing Carax into the light, showing a truly unique artist who has influenced many while still remaining under the radar.
“Mr leos caraX” is a pretty straightforward documentary about a guy who is anything but straightforward. After his first feature film, “Boy Meets Girl,” Carax was lauded amongst cineastes as a great new talent and thrust into the spotlight by the media. However director Salomé posits that the pressures put on him at such a young age (24) may have drastically impaired his output and, worse, fed the ego of a “weird” outsider artist. Since Carax himself is so elusive, we never discover why he’s only made six films in nearly 30 years. However one thing that clearly hurt him is the disastrous shoot of “Les Amants du Pont-Neuf” (“Lovers on the Bridge”), a film that took over three years to complete and a ton of money.
Richard Brody of The New Yorker appears throughout “Mr leos caraX,” and provides some great insights to the filmmaker. It’s he who aligns Carax’s big budget, difficult shoot with the likes of Michael Cimino and “Heavens Gate” and Elaine May with “Ishtar,” in the sense that the court of public opinion tends to crush big budget movies that are difficult rather than let them stand on their own merits upon completion. After “Les Amants du Pont-Neuf,” Carax was unable to make another film until 8 years later with “Pola X,” as no investors would touch him. It’s a really sad occurrence as Carax was still in his prime as a filmmaker and was held back from moving forward with his vision.
Seeing as Carax embraces his outsider status as an unknowable creator (Leos Carax is an anagram of his name even), the documentary relies mostly on shots from his films and interviews with critics, as well as filmmakers he’s influenced (Harmony Korine for one) and actors he’s worked with, including Kylie Minogue, Juliette Binoche and Eva Mendes. But the main person in the film who provides insight to Carax is his longtime collaborator Denis Lavant, who quickly becomes recognized as Carax’s alter-ego. The fact these two men met and clicked so perfectly is an amazing, almost cosmic connection as they complemented each other so well. Both are fearless, talented and committed to their craft.
I really enjoyed “Mr leos caraX,” because it told me much about a filmmaker I should know more about. The film starts off a little “arty farty,” but soon snaps out of that and delivers great information and insights in an interesting way. I’m already looking to find all of Carax’s films and have already begun to see his influence on other filmmakers I admire, such as Noah Baumbach who completely stole (or pays homage-to) the scene where Frances (Greta Gerwig) runs down the street to “Modern Love” by David Bowie in “Frances, Ha.” The exact same scene (even in black and white!) happens in Carax’s first film, “Boy Meets Girl.” “Mr leos caraX” is an accessible and fascinating look at an artist who deserves more credit and attention. Hopefully between this doc and the success of “Holy Motors,” we will see more from Carax as his career enters it’s twilight.