Weird and Wonderful: The Cinema Of HOLY MOTORS Director Leos Carax

Featured Critic; Brooklyn, New York (@floatingartist)
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The Toronto International Film Festival is about to launch a retrospective celebrating the work of Holy Motors director Leos Carax, arguably the most important, or at least interesting, working French director. The director's triumphant return to the cinema with Holy Motors last year after a 13 year absence from feature filmmaking is indeed a cause for celebration, and a perfect opportunity to revisit his singular career. The TIFF retro will include all 5 of Carax's feature films: Boy Meets Girl, Mauvais Sang, Les Amants du Pont Neuf, Pola X and Holy Motors.

Over the last 30 years, Carax has made only 5 features, along with a couple of shorts, music videos and some cameo appearances in other directors' films -- Jean-Luc Godard's King Lear (1987), Lituanian auteur Sharunas Bartas' A Casa (1995) and Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely (2007). No prizes for guessing that Carax's career hasn't really been smooth sailing. Once hailed as an heir apparent to French New Wave and extraneously grouped by critics with Jean-Jacques Beineix (Diva) and Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) as one of the leading figures of Cinema du Look, a pop art movement that relied heavily on style in French cinema scene in the 80s, Carax was one of those bright young talents who fell victim to too much hype too early.

But I'm so very glad that Carax is back in the cinematic realm. Out of years of frustrations and financial hardship, he created something different, energetic and magical without ever losing his deeply personal, self-reflexive filmmaking style. He might not make films about young love that spoke to my heart so dearly anymore, but for the people who are just discovering the works of this shy little Frenchman, this retrospective will provide the window to the world that is just as fantastic as Holy Motors -- the precious world of being young and in love.

With Holy Motors topping most of the Twitch staff's year-end lists and TIFF about to embark on its retrospective, now's a perfect time to take a tour of Carax's romantic, eccentric and always fascinating body of work, from his features to the music video he directed for former French first lady Carla Bruni.  Click through the gallery below to explore.

*The TIFF retrospective will run from August 9 - 15 and will feature Q&A's with Carax himself (a rarity!) at select screenings. For more information, visit the official website.

Tokyo! to Holy Motors

I met Carax for the first time at a Tokyo! screening Q&A. Back then, he was a wary, cynical man who would sign onto any project just for the opportunity to make something, anything. No one was funding him and his new projects had all fallen apart before they even left the ground. It was a disheartening experience to see him in this state.

And yet, his contribution to Tokyo! (2008) was by far the most vivacious, creative segment of the three; Merde, starred his longtime collaborator, Denis Lavant, in the title role of a hideous red-bearded creature in a green suit that emerged from the sewer and wreaked havoc in the streets of Tokyo. When asked if we would see this creature pop up again in other cities, Carax said, "Sure, why not?" This was a good indication of what was to come and gave me hope for the future.

Four years later, after the success of Holy Motors, I found Carax more like a battered old warrior, much wiser and more introspective, and yet with his youthful enthusiasm and love for cinema still intact. He reminisced about his early days when I interviewed him last year at NYFF:

I was kind of a bluff -- I didn't study film, I've never been on a film set before, so when I was asking money for films, I was bluffing. I was proud of being alone. So I paid the price for this pride. It gave me strength but also it made me very isolated in the industry. I can't say it's good or bad but that's my story.

And he gave me his take on cinema:

I was around 16 years old when I discovered this island called cinema where I can see life and death from another perspective, from many different angles. I think every young person should be interested in that island. It's a beautiful place. I haven't made that many films so I don't really consider myself a filmmaker. It's really arrogant for me to say this but I do believe that I live on that island. It's worth living there.

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