Last year, Carlotta Films sent a new restoration of Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang (1986) on a coast-to-coast tour, and now it’s Carax’s debut, Boy Meets Girl (1984), making the rounds. “It premiered at the International Critics’ Week at the Cannes film festival,” writes Calum Marsh in the Voice, “and it hit the French cinema like a lightning bolt—sudden and electrifying. The film concerns an aspiring young filmmaker, a glum twentysomething named Alex (Denis Lavant), abandoned by one girlfriend and entranced by another [Mireille Perrier]. He spends his days shoplifting records and devising titles for movies he hasn’t yet made, while at night he drifts through the streets in headphones, on a vague quest for meaning. He seems, not insignificantly, like a hero Godard might have created. Carax, of course, has long been regarded as the principal inheritor of the legacy of the nouvelle vague, and his debut bears all the hallmarks of an erudite cinephile eager to celebrate his inspirations.”
Time Out‘s Keith Uhlich notes that Carax was all of 22 at the time of shooting and that this “film’s genius blooms especially bright in this new digital restoration… Carax drew heavily on his own romantic travails and personal disenchantments for the film. It feels, in many ways, like an exorcism—one of those ‘I had to make this’ efforts that allows an artist, full of raw talent, to wrestle his demons, gain a creative foothold and leap on to bigger things. Not that Carax ever really recovered from that restlessness: Scene by scene, you can sense the man who would go on to make such inflamed, caution-to-the-wind features as The Lovers on the Bridge (1991) and Pola X (1999), though Jean-Yves Escoffier’s lustrous black-and-white cinematography here tends toward the rigorous. It feels, at times, like Carax is checking himself in ways he wouldn’t subsequently: Can I really let my id run this wild?”
“It’s a try-out movie about trying out, as the text explicitly concerns a wanderer in search of emotional fulfillment, though he occasionally passes that off as looking for artistic inspiration,” writes Chuck Bowen in Slant. “The self-reflexivity here is about as elaborate and alternately exhilarating and maddening as it would be in Carax’s subsequent films. Boy Meets Girl is in love with movies, and it conjures a movie world of inventively lo-fi density and dexterity. It’s also in love with textures and props and mysteries and anecdotes. This film could serve as the working definition of a sketchbook movie, as Carax appears to have thrown every idea he had at the time into it.”
For Nicholas Elliott, writing for BOMB, “though Boy Meets Girl is slow as summer, the emotional temperature is wintry. Faces glow with artificial light on powdered skin, not the sheen of sweat. If Rainer Werner Fassbinder hadn’t thought of it first, Boy Meets Girl might be called Love is Colder than Death.”
Jordan Cronk for the L: “A narrative consistently pitting ennui against displays of unguarded emotion, and one likewise framed around an array of stylistic nods to forefathers such as Godard, Truffaut, and Resnais, can’t help but end like all great romances which came before—that is, in tragedy.”
Boy Meets Girl opens on Friday at New York’s Film Forum, which’ll follow up on the week-long run with Carax, a retrospective of the features right on through Holy Motors (2012). Boy‘s also headed to Cinefamily in Los Angeles and the Castro in San Francisco, accompanied by Tessa Louise-Salomé’s documentary, Mr X (also screening at Film Forum). When it premiered at Sundance in January, Kyle Burton, writing for Indiewire, found that it “doesn’t evade the self-congratulatory aspect of exploring an artist at work, but it remains a mesmerizing experience thanks to the appeal of modern cinema’s most enigmatic auteur…. This is a straightforward, fans-only project, nothing like the work of its eponymous figure. Louise-Salomé never positions her film as anything but a celebration — which is fine on its own terms. It’s counterintuitive to indict the director for sharing her fascination her movie’s subject.”
“Not that a film is inherently stronger if intellectual fisticuffs are on display,” wrote Michael Pattison for filmuforia, “but Louise-Salomé’s documentary is in desperate need of a devil’s advocate—one of which Carax himself would surely approve.”
Danielle Lurie‘s interviewed Louise-Salomé for Filmmaker.
Updates, 8/9: Cuyler Ballenger in the Notebook on Boy Meets Girl: “Alex’s disinterest in cooperating with the world is matched only by his insistence to control it. What we are left with is transcendent self-involvement through time, space and person: otherwise known as being in your twenties. Shot in black and white and set in the Paris of anytime, Carax with one hand tips his cap to love story nostalgia and with the other fondles the petty egoism of love.”
“It’s no surprise the critical world was taken by Carax,” writes Jeremy Polacek at Hyperallergic. “Tumultuous, impassioned, brimming with cinematic references, Boy Meets Girl captures the essence of youth and love, art mirroring the experience of the life of the artist. Levant is Carax and both are Alex—all of them creators and lovers, despairing and ambitious.”
Update, 8/10: Carson Lund for Slant on Mr X: “Amid a fairly standard brew of talking heads, film clips, and playfully chosen behind-the-scenes snippets, Louise-Salomé’s key recurring visual trope—an animation of floating orbs filled with distorted images from Carax’s films, all backlit by a beaming ray of light—reinforces her film’s conception of Carax’s body of work as a universe unto itself, operating according to its own celestial logic and gravitational principles. For the Carax fan, this cinephilic immersion is comforting, but the film makes little room for thoughtful dissenters, rehashing (though eloquently) the praise already circling the director: his visionary aesthetics, his affectionate cine-references, the perception of his work as indirect autobiography.”
Updates, 8/16: At Hammer to Nail, Evan Louison takes a good long look at Boy Meets Girl and its relation to Carax’s other films.
Jake Cole for the L on The Lovers on the Bridge: “Sensual details abound,” but “Carax does not shy away from harsher evaluations of social failures or possessive codependence, but that only confirms him as the cinéma du look’s most thoughtful filmmaker.”