INTERVIEW: Carax X Three; New Life for "Pola X," "Boy Meets Girl" and "Mauvais Sang"
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE/9.13.00) -- Sipping green tea, with an unlit cigarette in hand, and looking every bit the morose and intellectual figure he is reputed to be, French auteur Leos Carax is trapped in New York's Soho Grand Hotel doing press for movies he's long forgotten about. Most known in the States for last year's Miramax release of "The Lovers on the Bridge" (originally 1991's "Les Amants du Pont Neuf), Carax is back in the U.S. to promote the release of his latest film, "Pola X," the 1999 Cannes entry that incensed as many critics as it inspired: pull quotes sure to be seen on a movie poster near you include: "A raving beauty," "startlingly beautiful," "mystifying and miraculous" "virtually every shot transmutes a shock of surprise, possibility and emotional intensity." You begin to wonder if some critics like Carax as much as they do because he allows them to sound as poetic in their reviews as his films look on the screen.
Starring Guillaume Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve, "Pola X" is loosely based on Melville's novel, "Pierre," (the film's title is an acronym for the book's French name "Pierre ou les Ambiguites"). Carax's version tells the tale of an aristocrat (Depardieu) who discovers he had a sister he never knew about -- an Eastern European refugee who forces him to rethink his superficial ways. Distributor Winstar rescued the film earlier this year, as they did with another Cannes oddity -- Bruno Dumont's "Humanite" which enjoyed far more critical success in the U.S. than it did in France -- and are now releasing "Pola X," along with Carax's first two films "Boy Meets Girl" (1984) and "Mauvais Sang" (1986) (playing tonight at New York's Walter Reade Theater) -- breakout aesthetic successes that launched Carax into the cultural spotlight.
First murmuring and enigmatic, Carax, whose real name is Alexandre Dupont, shies away from answering questions about his work. But with a little coaxing, the reluctant director reveals some personal insights about his desire to be a musician, his general disgust for films after making them, how to get the chaos and order of life into his work, and hiding behind a big camera.
indieWIRE: Are you doing any work while you're in New York?
Leos Carax: Looking for an actress, as usual.
iW: So you have a definite project in mind?
Carax: No. I'm traveling, reading and meeting people. I'm trying to find ideas and then I try to find a girl, someone I think I can make a film with.
iW: You didn't go to film school, right?
Carax: I stopped school. I didn't know what to do. I was making a little money and moved to Paris from the suburbs and discovered cinema. And then I just bought myself a camera and started shooting.
iW: Were there any specific films you were excited about?
Carax: It started with silent films and the French New Wave.
iW: What was it like meeting and working with Godard? [Carax acted in Jean-Luc Godard's "King Lear".] He was someone you admired when you were just starting out.
Carax: Yes, very much. I don't call that meeting. I never really had a relationship with a filmmaker. We knew each other a little bit. We had a few exchanges. Films, I don't like to talk about films.
iW: Not with other directors.
Carax: Not with anyone.
iW: Why not?
Carax: I don't think I'm a cineaste. I don't think I'm a filmmaker. I happen to make films sometimes, not many, and not often. I don't think I have anything much to say about it.
iW: Would you rather be doing something else?
Carax: Music. I would have liked to have a life with music, but that didn't happen. I'm a frustrated composer, singer, rock star, whatever.
iW: But music is very much a part of your movies.
Carax: Yes, there is music in my films. And yes, my sense of cinema is close to music. If I had to say it was close to something else, it wouldn't be writing; it wouldn't be painting. Composers must hear what they create. And I kind of have an intuition of that process because of the way I write films. The scriptwriting is not interesting for me. When the composer has to put it on paper is not the creative part. The moment you hear something, and put it down -- this is good. I envy this very much.
iW: Do you think the images in your films come to you like music comes to a composer?
Carax: I think . . . that's why I don't like talking about it. I hate people who talk about how mysterious things are. I've never understood why I feel ready once every 4 or 5 years, why I feel the need to make a film. I'm not a storyteller. I don't believe film is like a dream you have and then you try to make it happen on screen. It has nothing to do with that; I don't think so. The act of watching a film has to do with a dream, but the act of making it, no. Some parts of some films I've made, maybe, I had a joy when something happens and you hear something.
iW: Let me give you a specific image and you can tell me how you composed it -- did you write it down, storyboard, how did you create it? In "Pola X," there is this magnificent shot of the young woman being fitted for her long white, wedding dress with the green mountains in the background. Audiences let out an audible gasp, I remember, at Cannes...
Carax: The film was thought to be in three parts, three chapters. There's the one chapter in the countryside, called 'In the Light.' I knew this chapter would be light, it would be green and white, green for nature. I dyed all of the actors' hairs blonde and put them in white shirts. So I was trying to find a way to expose this young girl in a shot that would be really white and surrounded by green. So the film is going from light to darkness and rust.
In the 80s, I made three films, with the same people, the same actors, the same D.P., the same producer. Then I stopped making films. We all separated, some people died, some people lived, some people divorced. And when I went back to making film, I didn't take anybody back from the past. So I would say this is the first time I made a film alone, although the crew was very helpful. But talking about colors with the D.P., it was not the same relationship I had with Jean Yves Escoffier. So there was a conscious [decision] of going from light to dark, and from 35mm to 16mm.