Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cinebomb #2: Mauvais Sang

Filmmaker Leos Carax was one of the more polarizing figures in the '80s. His films - he's made only four - are often held up as prime examples of "over-arty" and "self indulgent". Carax cannibalizes from the few film genres that I absolutely despise - melodramas and Hollywood musicals - but adds enough French New Wave style that the resulting Frankenstein is lithe and brilliant. It's a very liberating magic trick and 1986's Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood) is perhaps Carax's finest experiment.

The film centers on actor Denis Lavant - he's got a face like a primary school prizefighter. Lavant's in love with Juliette Binoche but she's with Michel Piccoli, a street thug. Lavant and Binoche's doomed romance plays out against a backdrop of industrialized streets in the near future where a sexually transmitted AIDS-like disease spreads among those who have sex without emotion. Lavant's estranged dad is a hood and when he's knocked off his cronies, including Piccoli, send Lavant to steal a vaccine for the disease. All this under the opressive heat from an approaching Halley's comet...

But the plot's just a thin structure here. Just some pale skeleton to hang the images on. The characters are ciphers, their words are formulaic. Carax has them there only to move, to smoke, to fuck - Carax wants to capture the raw energy of life. And life is bubbling under the surface of nearly every image. At one point, Lavant literally bursts into dance - seen in the vital tracking sequence above - all his emotion enfusing his muscles and making them jerk and jump.

Carax is an odd craftsman. He loves closeups - mostly of heads. He loves to play with shadows and images of puppetry. Distortion and color whirl together. But he's also elegant. There are long sequences that feel otherworldly in their beauty, passages of dark street poetry. At times all this joyful exuberance gets tiring and at two hours the film can be a test. But there are so many delicious moments in Mauvais Sang that resonate deeply, you'd be foolish to pass up the experience.

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