In Seine

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Having failed to appreciate MAUVAIS SANG as an ignorant youth, I’d given LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF the go-by — I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it then either. Fast-forward to a couple of days ago, and it made the perfect climax to my Edinburgh Film Festival activities. The comparison crossed my mind while watching — This is like Kusturica’s ARIZONA DREAM — both are spectacular, romantic, crazy, excessive and overlong films, documenting in convincing detail the tribulations and ecstasies of amour fou. You could double-bill them but you would be pretty sore and tired after that arse-marathon — the Carax, like the Kusturica, wears the viewer down with its stop-start narrative and wide-eyed intensity.

Denis Lavant is remarkable as ever, and Juliette Binoche is remarkable as never before or since. Carax seems to be channeling the energies of his beloved LA PETITE LISE and things like MENILMONTANT, while recombining story elements from Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS (imprisoned hobo, blind girl, new miracle cure) in sometimes dark and disturbing ways. The combination of grand, budget-busting spectacle, documentation of the degraded depths of the underclass, almost psychotic levels of romanticism, and bursts of fantastical whimsy could easily be distasteful — Carax operates without a safety net, trusting that he can crush our reservations with sheer passion and overkill.

Les amants du pont neuf

Favourite moment among many: we track along looking at the pavement of the bridge, littered with empties from Lavant and Binoche’s cheap wine binge, eventually discovering their slumbering figures — which are the same size as the bottles. Carax has constructed a photorealist street curb and debris at many times life-size, and posed his actors within in. You could fit half a Binoche in that bottle. Astonishing. Nothing like it occurs elsewhere in the film, which is part of its impact. As with Herzog’s EVEN DWARFS, I think we should assume not that our leads have shrunk, but that the world has grown fantastically overnight.

Is it a nod to THE SMALL BACK ROOM? If so, like the rest of the film, it’s so extreme as to be almost a physical impossibility as nods go. The kind of nod produced by a guillotine blade.

It’s amazing Carax is still alive and working. This seems like the kind of orgasmic death-throe cinema that SHOULD kill a director.

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8 Responses to “In Seine”

  1. I’ve had the opposite relationship with Cinema Carax, taking to him immediately with BOY MEETS GIRL, but fell away with POLA X. Lucky to have seen them on screen, and can’t imagine trying to watch him on a small TV.

    I saw PONT NEUF on a date. I was stunned and moved, but my soon-to-be girlfriend’s first comment was “Another film where the ugly guy gets the beautiful woman.” It may have been “ugly OLD guy”–my now-ex was much younger than I–and it started an uncomfortable conversation that likely predicted our eventual end. I was stunned, telling her this wasn’t a typical Hollywood pairing of aging male star with his granddaughter, that Lavant’s character was clearly portrayed as crazy–but she would have none of it. It was a sexist movie.

  2. Interesting while the “jolie laide” Denis Lavant is Cara’s perpetual stand-in, the auteur himself is quite good-looking — as his obvious from his appearance in Godard’s truly insane King Lear.

  3. Here’s my favorite scene from Les Amants

  4. Lavant can’t be dismissed as merely ugly, since his face is so damn expressive an instrument — and he may be the greatest physical actor alive. Surely a woman should appreciate his grace and power in motion?

    The fact that he’s not much of a catch in conventional terms motivates the whole last half of the film, where he fears losing Binoche if she gets her sight back. Wouldn’t really work if he was played by Jean-Marc Barr.

  5. PONT-NEUF (which for some reason my predictive text just assumed should be Spontaneous Neufchâtel???) is indeed magnificent. I saw it in 1991 at the wonderful, late lamented Lumiere in St Martins Lane, just down the street from the Arts Theatre, where I’d been working back then.
    What a movie that was.
    *What* a fuckin movie.
    And years later, when I’d bought the DVD and sat down to re-watch it, well… no. Hell no. It’s a movie that *craves* the cinema screen. Denis Lavant is breathtaking.
    And again, still more years later (8 of them), when I sat spellbound at the DGA during the French Festival in Los Angeles, watching Claire Denis’ stunner BEAU TRAVAIL, a riff on Melville’s Billy Budd, with Lavant playing a version of Claggart, his seductive, sly, pungent sexual power grabbed me and held me in a very tight fist indeed.
    Particularly his dance at the very end. Oh, thank you Jeebus.

  6. He’s one of my favourite movie dancers. He attended our little festival, but I didn’t get to meet him — I must ask what he was like. I can’t actually imagine him as a living person.

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