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'Boy Meets Girl' Is a Treasure of Cinematic References

Leo Carax sculpts together cinema references and turns them into something new, only later allowing the influences behind specific pieces to make sense in your mind.


Boy Meets Girl

Director: Leos Carax
Cast: Denis Lavant, Mireille Perrier
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Rated: NR
Year: 1984
US DVD release date: 2014-11-18

Leos Carax was just 23 years old when he directed Boy Meets Girl, but judging from the resulting film, one would think it was made by a true master of the form who had been at work for decades. This sense of brilliance and natural born genius makes the film comparable to an achievement like Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Like that 1941 classic, which often tops lists of the greatest movies ever made, Boy Meets Girl also announced the arrival of an arrogant wunderkind that perhaps the world wasn’t ready to receive just yet.

There is not much by way of plot in Boy Meets Girl; everything is essentially contained in the title. There’s a boy, called Alex (Denis Lavant), and a girl, named Mireille (Mireille Perrier). They meet by chance. He becomes obsessed with her. Existentialist tragedy ensues. If this synopsis sounds like something dreamt up by a romantic, gothic, teenager, it’s precisely because the film revels in this kind of over-the-top way of looking at emotions. When Alex first runs into Mireille, he is going through severe depression; when we meet him, it’s even suggested that he might be on his way to kill himself.

Yet his entire worldview is turned upside down when he sees this angel. Similarly, Mireille is depressed, but unlike Alex, she is much more hermetic about the reasons behind her sadness. Carax bonds them through shared misery, and yet the film thrives with romantic optimism, for we long to see them make it.

Stunningly shot in black and white by Jean-Yves Escoffier, who makes a playful use of contrasts and shadows, Boy Meets Girl serves as a great canvas for Carax to share some of his passions and obsessions. There doesn’t seem to be a single frame in the entire film that doesn’t contain a reference to another artist Carax deeply admires. From Jean Cocteau to David Bowie and Jean-Luc Godard, Carax makes it obvious that he is madly in love with the arts, especially cinema, and that he wants us to love the things he does.

What differentiates Carax from other referential filmmakers is that he knows just how to recontextualize his references with enough humor and subtlety to make them his own. Unlike someone like Quentin Tarantino, who seems to be expecting a gold medal or a pat on the back, every time he inserts a reference in his work, Carax is more of a sculptor who puts together various pieces and turns them into something new, only later allowing the influences behind specific pieces to make sense in your mind.

For example, there is an enigmatically beautiful shot in Boy Meets Girl in which Alex uses a Xerox machine in a room with mirrored walls. The composition is immediately striking for the lovely dance of lights between the “real thing” and its reflection, but the more the image sticks in you, the more you realize Carax was trying to say much more than what was on the surface. His use of mirrors to reproduce the image of Alex, and therefore turn him into a Xerox copy of himself, pays tribute to both Kafka and Cocteau, not to mention the fact that the multiplied image of an office drone with suicidal tendencies, screams of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.

Something else that sets Carax apart is his being unafraid to put a a lot of himself into his films. For example, Alex is the director’s real name, and Alex in the film also happens to be a filmmaker. The benefit of the 30 years that have passed since Boy Meets Girl was made also allow us realize that he was just then planting the seeds of what would be a lifetime collaboration with Lavant, who ended up becoming his onscreen alter ego in almost all of his subsequent works. Their most recent collaboration is the breathtaking Holy Motors, in which Lavant plays an actor trying to figure out which of the roles he’s played fits his true self the better.

In Boy Meets Girl, Carax shows audiences a scrapbook of his most beloved cinematic possessions. He makes multiple references to silent cinema, directly through quotations and indirectly through the way in which he turns Perrier into an otherworldly version of Lillian Gish and Falconetti. Carax also allows Felliniesque absurdism to seep into the moments of utmost emotional honesty. All of these cinematic signposts add up to the work of a brilliant mind, one that decades later we still haven’t completely figured out.

This Blu-ray edition features a pristine, new restoration that highlights the film’s inventive, stark cinematography. Bonus features include Lavant’s screen test -- a marvellous “star is born” memento if ever there was one -- as well as a behind-the-scenes feature and the re-release trailer.

9

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