CANNES ’99 REVIEW: Carax Returns With Disappointing “Pola X”
by David Bourgeois
With the deck stacked largely in his favor by incorporating two names
synonymous with French cinema: Deneuve and Depardieu (ok, not that
Depardieu, a younger seedling, Guillaume), director Leos Carax debuted his
latest film “Pola X” at the 52nd Cannes Film Festival.
After he completed “The Lovers of Pont-Neuf” (to be released in the U.S. this
summer by Miramax), Carax dropped out of the filmmaking world. During that
self-imposed exile, the director of such films as “Mauvias Sang” and “Boy Meets
Girl” (and actor in the Jean-Luc Godard film “King Lear“) said that he was “in
hell.” A far better place, it seems, than the world that surrounds the
characters in his latest film.
Living an idyllic life in their colossal chateau in Normandy, near the
banks of the Seine, young novelist Pierre (Depardieu) and his mother
(Catherine Deneuve) have a close and loving relationship. When Pierre speeds
off to tell his fiance that his mother has set a wedding date, he sees a
disheveled looking woman, Isabelle, on the side of the road. During her
lengthy monologue, we learn that Isabelle is Pierre’s half-sister, a fact
that only seems to catalyze his deep (but inexplicable) obsession with her.
Pierre leaves Normandy and his old life behind and takes Isabelle to Paris,
where he tries to focus on his writing.
Carax adapted the screenplay from the little-known 1851 Herman Melville
novel “Pierre or the Ambiguities” — clearly an autobiographical novel that was
an enormous critical flop. In fact Carax tried to stay so true to the novel
that he even credited the long-dead novelist as co-screenwriter (along with
himself, Lauren Sedofsky and Jean-Pol Fargeau“).
As much as Carax deserves praise for both attempting to bring to the screen
a difficult and turgid novel and breaking the familiar cycle of French
template filmmaking, he simultaneously deserves a stern condemnation for his
bloated pretentiousness and hackneyed view of the artist as indelible
fop — one in need of a muse in order fulfill his role as writer. The first
half of the film shows promise: young wealthy writer needs to escape his
vapid and suffocating lifestyle. The second half of the film, set outside
Paris, is a mess and shows the rapid downward spiral of Pierre. We never
really learn what it is about Isabelle — a mumbling, stuttering, stammering,
non-presence — that has so transformed him into a bitter and unfocused writer.
Those expecting brilliant performances will leave disappointed. Deneuve — the
godmother of Cannes — does her best with the script, but her character is
one-dimensional and comes off as nothing more than a bored, wealthy mother.