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.
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.