I champion several filmmakers, each with their singular style and philosophy of filmmaking. At times, these styles and the methods that come with them topple each other’s meaning and essence. We have Kieslowski for instance whose method consists in crafting a defined narrative with coincidental twists and turns, done so well that you get invariably lost in it. He then deposits ineffable gems around the architecture of the story. The result is a kind of sublime dance you know has been fatal. Some of us register this and our soul is marked irrevocably.
Wong produces beautiful essays on the process of filmmaking out of the air that he and we breathe. His films are delivered to us as meditations on the beauty of driven desire. This desire is what he puts in the films and also what makes them. He stylizes this energy with the help of his collaborators who give us tableaux that evoke everything sublime about desire.
Herzog’s cinema is about commitment to the craft, and trust in the inevitable. His films are weaved with two clear threads, the thread of the story he wants to tell, and the thread of the making of this story where you can see all the hardships and struggles, to which you clearly detect a transcendent intervention. The films offer an invaluable insight into the craft of moviemaking. The product is a precious artifact unique and rare that you may believe it was crafted magically by sheer breath.
But friends, here we have Carax who is deeply indebted to some French theorists of the New Wave, which, spearheaded by Godard, gave themselves the task (in the sixties) to re-invent French Cinema. But you musn’t take this re-inventing too seriously as it was done in a sort of naïve rebellious way. We ended up with funny and playful films, and some serious attempts, but never any rare and unique “art”.
Carax, coming later, had the chance to synthesize the varied interesting fragments the wave produced. He picked out some precious ideas and shuffled them along with imaginative abstractions on style. The purpose is style, tableaux of cinematic stylizations that segue into each other, and injected with a personal poetry that he believes to pertain to something original and pure about film.
Take Tarantino for instance who simply pays homage. He leaks out direct references, never quite adding to them or taking away. His work is purposely ironic. You are supposed to say “Oh, that’s from Breathless” and move on. He masters this with an admirable precision, but you come out unchanged. Not enough layers.
But in order to register Carax it is necessary to have followed the line (since Godard) of French cinephile filmmakers whose films are not films, but essays on films, something that is often confused with self-reference. Not quite, what film-essays do is purposely avoid a natural narrative unfolding by distorting accepted and conventional methods of presentation. For instance, the use of music in some Godard is often bombastic, as much as the use of a narrative device, or a long take. This aesthetic is particular to what’s French about criticism and the general appreciation of arts and the cinema, a kind of excessive and naïve appreciation. This is what some of the wave tried to squeeze in a film.
I sincerely consider this a life-changing experience, strictly because of the poetry. After all, there is no mastery of the long form here, it is a kind of adolescent exercise, hence the Rimbaud title. But there is soul you want to know here, an innocent honesty, and a purer poetry in the inhibited expression. Carax would later begin a slightly mature presentation of the same aesthetic with his “Amants”. Not intellectual with narrative, but as interesting in terms of imaginative stylized vignettes. Now, how many poems can you count?