Leos Carax’s 1986 thriller Mauvais Sang takes place during a Parisian heatwave; in the most memorable scene, a hot-blooded young lover played by the elfin Denis Lavant runs crazily down a side street to the sounds of a hit David Bowie tune. The song is Modern Love, which is also the title that TIFF Bell Lightbox has given to its welcome retrospective of Carax’s work.
While the 52-year-old director has only made five features to date, it’s hardly a stretch to say that he’s the master of cinematic amour fou. Starting with the title of his exhilarating debut, Boy Meets Girl (1984), Carax’s great subject is romantic madness: in The Lovers on the Bridge (1991), a fire-eater and an artist paint the Seine red on Bastille Day; Pola X (1999), meanwhile, describes a semi-incestuous affair that consumes its participants whole.
Carax returned from a long hiatus with last year’s acclaimed Holy Motors, a surreal sketch-comedy revue that dispenses with boy-meets-girl niceties and instead scrawls out a passionate mash note to the movies. Starring Lavant in 11 separate roles – or maybe just a single schizophrenic tour de force – it’s a film about the elastic nature of performance that finds its director stretching and contorting himself right alongside his chameleonic lead actor. There may not be a more agile filmmaker out there.
Modern Love runs Aug. 9 to 13 at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.