Boy Meets Girl (1984)
The first masterfully structured abstract elegiac work by Leos Carax as he becomes French cinema’s most acknowledged enfant terrible.
When Leos Carax, one of the most prominent underground French filmmakers, was shooting his debut feature film Boy Meets Girl (1984) he was just twenty three years old. As it could be quite understandable the film bears many of his characteristic personal remarks. Indeed Boy Meets Girl is a full exposure of Carax’s personality and culture of that period and is a preview of his upcoming career too. All of his favorite elements are presented in the most intelligible way in this film. Boy Meets Girl participated at the International Critics’ Week during the 37th Cannes Film Festival and won the Award of the Youth.
The Boy, Alex (Denis Lavant) is a depressed and emerging filmmaker from Paris who has recently been dumped by his beloved lover Florence. The Girl, Mireille (Mireille Perrier) is sensitive and has often suicidal crises especially when her blasé and cold boyfriend Bernard leaves her alone. On a late spring Parisian night and while Alex is trying to deal with his sudden and catastrophic separation, he will hear by chance Mireille through her building’s intercom while she’s quarrelling with her soon to be ex-boyfriend. Alex instantly feels close to her and he will do anything to meet Mireille. An upper-class party would be an excellent excuse to see her for the first time. It is almost summertime, they are young, they live in Paris, and they both feel lonely that same night.
As it is already suggested by the title this seems to be a pure and simple Boy meets Girl romantic story, but of course that simplicity is not applicable in Carax poetic world. The director before becoming the bête noire of French cinema has been a dedicated “scholar” of the Cinémathèque Française. Hence his idea of Boy Meets Girl, as himself, lives and breathes in a post-nouvelle-vaguesque environment that is so personal and universal at the same time. For that reason his debut is arguably one of the most impressively innovative of the past thirty years. It is also unique when a director can be simultaneously chaotic, driven by anxiety and the immaturity of his young age, and very strict perfectionist like Carax succeeds to be from his first ever still. Each scene is so meticulously staged and directed that leaves no room for accidental mistakes but still can build an atmosphere of improvisation. Every moment is trying to balance between a bleak reality and a parallel elegiac romanticism that only Paris could create. But as it is already mentioned, this is not a typical romantic film.
Carax by being sarcastic and almost self-contradictory to his film’s title and to the Parisian inspired romantic genre decides to follow a totally different and tragic direction. He starts with his heroes that could appear in the exact flipside of a boy-meets-girl film. Alex doesn’t really have any hope in his professional and especially in his personal life. He says that he is a filmmaker but he is still trying to create films in his mind. While his heart and probably his body too are absolutely connected and dedicated to his ex-girlfriend Florence. He can’t be trusted since his emotions seem to overpower him and he just follows his loneliness as the only index for his future decisions. Mireille is also a loser. She moved to Paris just to follow her boyfriend and some futile dreams and now she is locked down in this unfriendly city that she deeply loves to hate. Her suicidal attempts are the only ways for her to escape and her internal depression could become disastrous when it is combined with Alex’s melancholia.
Thematically also there is no place for romance. This is a film made by and dedicated to a repressed and desperate youth that also needs love. The heroes are both in their early twenties and they seem already broken and destroyed. There is no glimpse of optimism or positive thinking especially when they need to find ways to express themselves and their feelings and they can’t, exactly like Carax himself. Boy Meets Girl is a deeply autobiographical film by a young introvert artist that needs to expose himself predominately to his art and to the public too. It should also be noted that Carax’s first name is Alexandre so this makes easier the assumption that his Alex is truly his alter ego. They are both Parisians; born on the same year and they feel condemned by their artistic daemons that force them to be incapable to love or to fulfill any other of their personal desires.
The director’s personal self-reflection doesn’t stop only on the hero’s character and personality but it expands to the whole aesthetics of the film. As Carax is an original offspring of Jean-Luc Godard’s perpetual universe, he doesn’t try to hide any of his influences especially in this first work of art. Boy Meets Girl should always be mentioned as a definite homage to Godard and especially to his debut À Bout de Souffle (Breathless, 1960) which follows a similar storyline and is also sarcastic and personal. Since Carax has been baptized in the spirit of the Nouvelle Vague he also gained some of François Truffaut’s sensitivity that early Godard is almost missing. As Truffaut used Jean-Pierre Léaud for his filmic alter ego, Carax does the same thing with Denis Levant and this will follow in his next films too. So Boy Meets Girl could be a recreation of the Godardian obsessions with touches of real deep emotions that only Truffaut could reach. It is an original and pure French amalgam that could only be emerged during a profound post-nouvelle-vague period.
That French originality is also presented on the technical point of view as Carax is revealing his knowledge and passion for his preferred cinema by creating an expressionistic experimental talkative film. Jean-Yves Escoffier’s striking black and white cinematography is capturing the image and it is extremely impressive and impactful to the audience. The camera movements are not limited by anything and Carax is trying every possible technique or angle from still shooting to panoramic shots. The director never attempts to be minimalistic at any point of his film as he wants to enrich every scene in the most virtuosic possible way. He is obsessed with every trivial detail and especially with the sound. Boy Meets Girl starts so expressively silent that reminds Jean Epstein’s visual poetic realism of Cœur Fidèle (The Faithful Heart, 1923) and later it is transformed to a verbose self-exploratory quest for real emotions and true love as Jacques Rivette’s L’Amour Fou (1969). That crosscutting coexistence of silent and talking world of French cinema could easily be enclosed in Mireille Perrier appearance. She is able to bear some obvious resemblances both to Maria Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928) and of course to Jean Seberg in Breathless.
Through Boy Meets Girl, Leos Carax reaches an unexpected artistic maturity that will haunt him in the future. This first masterfully structured abstract elegiac work is only the beginning of a journey of a tormented young filmmaker to become the most acknowledged enfant terrible of French cinema and create his distinct poetic universe in order to combat his inner creative daemons.