The Star-Crossed Visions of Leos Carax

  1. The Star-Crossed Visions of Leos Carax

“‘Cinéaste maudit--what does that mean?’ asks Leos Carax, the French filmmaker of his generation most accused of being one. ‘It’s something made up by the press, I think.’ Literally, it means an ‘accursed filmmaker,’ a term first used by the poet Jean Cocteau to describe directors like Erich von Stroheim, Orson Welles or Edgar G. Ulmer, whose careers seem to pass under a cloud.”

—Dave Kehr, The New York Times

From February 17 through 27, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents The Star-Crossed Visions of Leos Carax—a four-film series examining the colorful and controversial career of Leos Carax, who, from the age of 23 and the debut of his first film, was variously proclaimed the “bad boy” and “boy genius” of French cinema. Carax’s output has been small, only five feature films in thirty years, but his impact is significant. His cult reputation casts a long shadow, making the premiere of any new film an occasion that opens the notoriously reclusive director to a predatory-seeming scrutiny by the international press.

Carax, born Alexandre Oscar Dupont, is the youngest of four children, the only son of American film writer Joan Dupont and a French father. As a teenager he dropped out of high school to haunt Left Bank cinemas, and adopted the new name Leos Carax, an anagram of Alex Oscar. He shortly followed the path of the French New Wave critics-turned-filmmakers, writing for Cahiers du Cinéma, acting (in Jean-Luc Godard’s KING LEAR), and finally, directing. BOY MEETS GIRL, which premiered in 1983, owed a small debt to the New Wave, but provided a substantial glimpse of Carax’s own quirky vision in which star-crossed love, fatalism, and urban chaos figure prominently.

BAD BLOOD, the second film in what was to become a trilogy starring his alter ego Denis Lavant, looked at obsessive love in a futuristic Paris on the brink of epidemic and imminent cosmic accident. The film established with finality that Carax’s cinema is based in a worldview rather than in relationships, and that empathy with alienation is the key to appreciating his particular form of romanticism.

THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE (a.k.a. THE LOVERS OF PONT-NEUF), a gorgeous, darkly poetic story of tragic love between homeless misfits, nearly unmade the director’s career. It was at once a financial and logistical folly on a scale never before seen in French cinema, and the grandest and most visually entrancing of dreams. A tangle of production problems was followed by long-term distribution woes. We regret that it cannot be included in this series due to the current unavailability of the film in any theatrical projection format.

Mysterious, literary, violent and sexual, POLA X took the director’s customary fatalism into new, artistically risky territory, testing his mettle on all levels--script, performance and visual realization. HOLY MOTORS, which premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, afforded Denis Lavant a haunting range of memorable characterizations, and proves that Carax, at age 52, has not yet settled for either conformity or self-repetition.

For their assistance in programming this series the Gene Siskel Film Center thanks Alexander McDonald, The CineFamily; Elodie Dupont and Claire Thibault, The Festival Agency; Pathé; and Emily Woodburne, Indomina Releasing.

—Barbara Scharres


Buy a ticket for the first Carax film on Sunday, February 17, or Saturday, February 23, and get a ticket for the second Carax film that day at this discount rate (tickets must be purchased at the same time): General Admission $7; Students $6; Members $4. (This discount applies to the second film only. Discount rate available only at the Film Center box office.)



Sun, Feb 17th at 3:00pm
Wed, Feb 20th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.8 (5 votes)
  2. 1986, Leos Carax, France, 119 min.
  3. With Michel Piccoli, Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant, Julie Delpy

“Purely delightful…bittersweet, haunting, and as original and eccentric as homage movies get.”
—Dennis Lim, Village Voice

The boy (Lavant) is a misfit orphan; the girl (Binoche) is impossibly young but preternaturally wise. Girl rejects boy in favor of a grizzled elder gangster (played with mature sexy élan by Piccoli) in a vaguely futuristic Paris where an AIDS-like epidemic threatens to wipe out faithless lovers and a killer comet menaces the earth from above. Carax’s world is a savage one where love is a foolish and dangerous dream, and armed robbery is just another way to make a living. In French with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)



Sun, Feb 17th at 5:15pm
Mon, Feb 18th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (4 votes)
  1. 2012, Leos Carax,
  2. France/Germany, 115 min.
  3. With Denis Lavant, Edith Scob,
  4. Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue

“A movie about filmmaking and the ecstasy of creation…it’s cinema reloaded.”
—Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“Best Film of 2012.”
—Film Comment Critics Poll, IndieWIRE Critics Poll

Topping many a Ten Best list for 2012, HOLY MOTORS marked Carax’s return to the screen after a long absence. This wild, mythic enigma chronicles a day and a night in the life of the chameleon-like Mr. Oscar (Lavant), a kind of avatar in a white stretch limousine who, in the course of his multiple missions, is transformed as a twisted dwarf, an elderly crone, a knife fighter, a hitman, a dying uncle, a forlorn lover, and more. Entrancing beauty and challenging ugliness, mystery, humor and dread blend in the haunting and haunted streets of Paris, where Mr. Oscar enacts cryptic scenarios, seemingly at the behest of a higher power. In French, English, and Mandarin with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

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Sat, Feb 23rd at 3:00pm
Mon, Feb 25th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (6 votes)
  1. 1983, Leos Carax, France, 104 min.
  2. With Denis Lavant, Mirielle Perrier

“Meteoric…ecstatic cinema and ecstatic living join together in a pressurized promise of glory and misery.”
—Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“Moves with the youthful, anarchic spirit of Godard’s early work.”
—Scott Tobias, The Onion

Carax sprang full-blown onto the international scene with this first feature, which plumbed the depths of a mean and dirty Paris. Through his eyes, it’s a city rife with drug dealers, homeless punks, and faceless high-rises. And yet there is romance—doomed and misbegotten, violent, fast and without regrets. Alex (Lavant) cruises the dark side of the city, and in one night falls in love with Mirielle (Perrier). But, as cryptically noted in the film’s first press kit, “Too late.” In French with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

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Sat, Feb 23rd at 5:00pm
Wed, Feb 27th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (6 votes)
  1. POLA X
  1. 1999, Leos Carax, France, 134 min.
  2. With Guillaume Depardieu, Katerina Golubeva,
  3. Catherine Deneuve

“Intoxicating…brought to life with a wild, flailing passion.”
—Stephen Holden, The New York Times

“I am grateful for films that break free of the dismal bonds of formula to cartwheel into overwrought passionate excess...I would rather see one movie like this than a thousand ‘Bring It Ons.’"
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Loosely based on Herman Melville’s little-known novel “Pierre; or the Ambiguities,” POLA X takes a tale of doomed love into new territory with the exploration of incest, perfidy, and a family’s darkest secrets. Pierre, only son of an icy aristocrat (Deneuve), lives in the shadow of his dead father until the night a deranged woman throws herself in the beam of his motorcycle headlight in the deep woods. The savage needs of animal nature and the latent aspirations of a dreamer clash violently. In French with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)