Watched Oct 10, 2012
Leos Carax’s latest film makes no attempt to disguise its self-reflexive nature; it's an endless hall of mirrors of film commenting on film. The dreamlike opening ushers us into a gargantuan movie theatre, where we take the place of the screen, watching the audience as they watch us, before the story proper begins.
“Monsieur Oscar” (Denis Lavant) is chauffered around Paris in a limousine between different “assignments”, laboriously applying different disguises as he goes. On this framework, Carax hangs a number of vignettes from downbeat drama to farce, with room for a musical number or two.
It’s a tragicomic look at an artist struggling with his work (at one point his boss makes a sinister cameo in the limo to ask Oscar if his heart is still in it), pushed this way and that, shoved into a dozen different masks. There’s a sour, satirical note to a lot of the proceedings, from Oscar’s grotesque Quasimodo-esque creature capering through a Pere Lachaise cemetery where all the headstones bear website advertisements, or a screen inside the limo displaying the beauty of riverside Paris in the sickly green night-vision glow of warzone reportage.
All of the surreal moments and Russian-doll nesting of different performances could make it very arch and distant, but there are moments of real emotional heft. Lavant’s weathered face has a kind of ruined charisma that shines through all the disguises and prostheses - whether dressed to the nines or clad in rags, he looks like a man who has seen far too much, and knows he’ll have to see much more. There’s a moment where he and Kylie Minogue (yes, really) take a walk through a derelict department store, reminiscing about the past. And while we’re unsure whether they are both actors taking a moment to acknowledge their past relationship, or whether they’re both just playing another role, it’s a truly moving bit of acting by them both.
With its irrepressible bursts of silliness and refusal to stay still, this is a film lovers’ film in the best way possible - so convinced of the possibilities of the form it's hard not to get caught up in its enthusiasm yourself.