J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Carax at Film Forum: Mr. X

Can a director with only five full features sustain a documentary and a retrospective? In this case, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors alone should provide ample fodder for weeks of analysis. Yet, Carax himself remains a cipher, despite the efforts of Tessa Louise-Salomé to illuminate the mystery man and his films in Mr. X: a Vision of Leos Carax (trailer here), which opens this Friday at Film Forum as part of their Carax series now underway.

What sort of name is Leos Carax? “A real assumed” one he responds, when asked. Perhaps that is somewhat clarifying (it also happens to be an anagram of “Oscar” and “Alex”). The rest of his biography remains quite murky and that is not due to any clerical oversight on his part. Clearly, Louise- Salomé tries to capitalize on the intrigue of Carax’s mystique, but she never scores a meaningful peak behind the mask. Instead, Mr. X steadily morphs into a critical appreciation of the filmmaker’s small but rich body of work, led by his longtime champion, Richard Brody of The New Yorker.

At least, Louise-Salomé maintains a Caraxian vibe, filming her talking heads amid evocative shadows and the flickering images of Carax’s films. Even Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa and actor Denis Lavant (widely considered Carax’s on-screen alter-ego) submit to her human movie screen treatment, but not the man himself, who is present solely via prior canned voiceovers.

Those looking for tangible dish will be disappointed, but the initiated should enjoy seeing the cult auteur’s cult auteur get his cinematic laurels. Arguably, the most intriguing sequences involve his near Waterloo, the dramatically over-budget Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, but all his features are revisited at length, along with Merde, Carax’s contribution to the anthology film Tokyo!, whose title character he would memorably revisit in Holy Motors (or Holy Moly Motors as some call it).

The gee-whiz enthusiasm for Carax shared by Louise- Salomé and her interview subjects (including Harmony Korine, Kylie Minogue, and Cannes Festival president Gilles Jacob) is appealing and Kaname Onoyama’s stylish cinematographer rather befits the subject. However, Mr. X never transcends its fannish devotion. Recommended mostly for the faithful binging on Carax, Mr. X: a Vision of Leos Carax opens this Friday (8/15), in conjunction with the Film Forum’s Carax retrospective.

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