Critics' Pick

Mauvais Sang (NR)

March 7, 2014
By Melissa Anderson
Mauvais Sang -- or "Bad Blood" -- was released in France just a few days after Leos Carax had turned 26 and certified him as the nation's reigning enfant terrible. Like its predecessor, Boy Meets Girl (1984), Mauvais Sang, nominally a neo-noir, is deeply in thrall to the masters of Nouvelle Vague, particularly Jean-Luc Godard. But Carax's endlessly romantic film transcends homage (and plot, for that matter); above all, his work captures ineffable states of being. A most unlikely yet most unforgettable leading man, the simian, sinewy Denis Lavant remains the most kinetic actor of the past 30 years, his supple physical performances recalling those of the silent-era greats. "He's good with his hands," gangster Marc (Michel Piccoli, the French-cinema titan who also has a cameo in Holy Motors) says of Alex. The criminal is a former associate of Alex's father, now dead after being pushed -- or jumping -- in front of a Metro train; Marc hopes to entice the young conjurer and card shark to join his latest caper: stealing the vial that contains the culture of STBO, a disease that kills "those who make love without love." (However discomfiting today, the allusion to AIDS -- and its "bad blood" -- was one of the first in cinema.) In the film's signature, still-electrifying scene, Alex springs out of the room where he's been talking to Anna (Juliet Binoche), racing, leaping, and cartwheeling down a nighttime street to David Bowie's "Modern Love." The pleasure he takes in movement -- in "the kiss of speed" -- is complicated by self-punishment as he intermittently punches himself in the gut. Mauvais Sang shows us that Carax back then was still who he is today: a creator of singularly expansive, breathtaking cinema.

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