Leos Carax finally broke into real mainstream attention with the recent Holy Motors, but he’s been around for a good while. His 1986, Godard-indebted feature, Mauvais Sang features an awesome cast: Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli, Denis Lavant, and Julie Delpy.
The first three films that come to mind for Mauvais Sang are Breathless, Contempt and Alphaville. There’s the freewheeling, playfulness of the former, embodied here in a shaving cream/fire extinguisher fight that takes place in a similarly (to Breathless) mundane bathroom. One can easily imagine Binoche as a Godard heroine – coquettish, fresh-faced; not the femme fatale of Jean Seberg, but with motivations hidden beneath a beautiful exterior:
There’s this sequence, which was directly referenced in Frances Ha where Denis Lavant’s Alex runs down the street in a looong tracking shot dancing to the trans-diegetic music of David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” alternating between self-injury and sheer exuberance. The vertical colored slats of the background make for a gorgeously dizzying kaleidoscope:
There’s the sangfroid cool of Alex – a fast-with-his-hands thief – with and the “American” with whom he settles into a double-cross that feels pulled from Alphaville (or maybe a few Fassbinder films)-
-and the sci-fi theft itself, quickly shot, with lasers and mirrors:
The end, with its saturated blood and dramatic overlong death sequence is Breathless and Contempt at once-
-and highly stylized exteriors like this one, which feel like a back studio lot filled with saturated colors and wan blue lighting, also recall Godard’s foray into Technicolor:
There is more to Mauvais Sang than just Godard-reference. It’s a very thinly veiled (if really veiled at all) commentary on AIDS. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. In a lot of ways it feels like the segue from Godard’s 60s to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2000s. Lavant and Binoche could very easily find a place in the latter’s weird worlds, particularly City of Lost Children and Amelie:
Carax has a hell of an eye for locations and framing. Look at the worn walls here. They look burned with charcoal. And who doesn’t love a shirtless Michel Piccoli?
Mauvais Sang is also really funny and inventive. This fight sequence starts in New Wave fashion – abrupt close-ups (like Michel’s shooting of the police officer in Breathless) that quickly follow one-another and give the viewer more of a sensation of motion than of any actual series of events.
It starts on Alex, with Piccoli’s Marc in the foreground:
A quick shot of fist hitting (or passing by) a face:
A purely emotional cut with the only story emphasis on her reaction show’s Binoche’s Anna, as the camera whizzes by in front of her, capturing her in a blur:
A cut to an odd angle, showing Marc – is it a high angle or a low angle or a reflection? – and then Alex rushing into frame:
And then the sound drops out. The shutter speed changes, evident in what’s not apparent in the following still images: a sudden stuttering motion. This wide shot shows Anna watching as the fight occurs. The first real, full view of the action. To this point everything has been incredibly fast:
And then things turn from kinetic to hilarious. Marc and Alex approach the camera…and squish flat up against a window, the reason for the lack of sound:
Carax cuts to a series of close-ups of pressed flesh. A comical fight that’s almost uncomfortably sexual with all of the skin squashed so hard together, bodies writhing close in relative silence:
It’s a hilarious sequence and a great series of techniques to encompass one fight scene that moves from the abrupt and confusing yet exhilarating, to the tangible, funny, and nearly uncomfortable very quickly.
I loved the photography of this earlier sequence where Alex and Anna skydive. This first still image below is gorgeous:
And I always love a little Dead Kennedys reference. This was just prior to the “Modern Love” sequence, so I was hoping that he might run and dance to “Kill the Poor”: