Leos Carax, "Pola X": Beauty Is What Drives Us to Despair By Zaven Boyajyan

in 4th Yerevan Golden Apricot - International Film Festival

by Zaven Boyajyan

In the framework of the Golden Apricot 4th Yerevan International Film Festival, the latest film by Leos Carax — one of the most inconceivable figures of the French cinema — opened the retrospective of his works. The film, entitled Pola X (1999) is the fourth feature by Carax, who was once named a young genius. Nowadays he is a 46-year-old director, and Pola X was made after an eight-year creative silence. Answering the question about the way Carax himself had to overpass after so many years away from cinema and before undertaking this work, he said it was “a way to Hell”.

Just like in Dante’s Divine Comedy that originated in a ‘dark forest’, where the main character of Pola X finds himself is in the ‘half circle’ of his mundane life. It is the descent of Orpheus to Hades praised by Jean Cocteau, one of the idols of Carax.
Cocteau, as told by him, used to adore “twilight, semi-darkness in which secrets do blossom”. An autobiographic novel by another of Carax’s favorite authors, the French writer Celine, is named Journey to the End of the Night. Along with such kinds of parallels, citations and classical motives, the cinema of Carax has an autobiographic background as well. All his characters seem to be in their own world of tweedledum and tweedledee: in all three works foregoing Pola X — Boy Meets Girl (1984), Bad Blood (Mauvais sang, 1986), Lovers on the Pont-Neuf (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, 1992) — Denis Lavant stars, and is the same age as Carax. The name Alex given to him is in fact the real name of the director from the period of life, when half American, half French Alex Oscar Dupont hasn’t yet grown into Leos Carax. Pierre, the main character from Pola X, calls himself an impostor just like Carax likes calling himself Tomas the Impostor from the example of his favorite personage created by Jean Cocteau.

In Bad Blood, Alex used to keep silence while a child, like Carax himself did. Also, the same way he suffers from an awful stomach disease, which made doctors feel feeble and the only opium was powerful enough for the pain to recede miraculously. What comes to a ‘vow of silence’, biographers of Carax claim that the cinema for him began from the very same silence, when the future director discovered the black and white world of silent pictures, where the gestures and emotions were predominant. The first feature by Carax, Boy Meets Girl, nominated for a Cesar, was a black and white one, shrouded with painful silence and inexpressible feelings. Works following this film — Bad Blood and Lovers on the Pont-Neuf — bear the stamp of his insane romance with Juliette Binoche. All of his works are generally insane love stories.

It was if, in the 1980’s, Denis Lavant as Alex was called a brother or was tweedledum and tweedledee to Carax. After Pola X the same was spoken about Gérard Depardieu’s son, Guillaume, who acted in the film as Carax’s regular double. Indeed, Depardieu junior made the following confession: “Leos and me are brothers of pain”. This film tells about the very pain, the illness, fall, suffering and despair. Here at the Golden Apricot, Carax said that Isabelle, the other main character from Pola X is a “sister spirit” to him. “When I read the novel at the age of 18,” he said, “I thought that was my novel.” It’s hard to say if it was an autobiography to me, or not. I didn’t find myself in the novel, but in the questions Pierre asks.”

Some people were confused by the Pola X title, because there is no girl among the characters called Pola. Some others tried to interpret it in every way possible naming it an unknown of equation, a crossed-over life and symbol of crucifixion. In actual fact this rebus by Carax implies a simpler explanation. He just likes playing with letters, words, meanings and himself. Pola is an abbreviator from the French version of the 19th century American writer Herman Melville’s Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, and the X symbolizes the tenth version of the script. The film is a modernized depiction of Melville’s novel, cultivated by Carax some ten times, eventually making Pierre, confronted with the ambiguities of the world, his own Orpheus.

In the classical film by Cocteau the poet, Orpheus, go on travels to the beyond, intending to see all, that is hidden from his eye and beyond his thinking. A beginner, Pierre is obsessed with a maniacal, uncontrollable aspiration for getting to the higher truth, because he realizes, as he speaks, “the big falsehood beyond all”. Catherine Deneuve is to embody one of the symbols of that big falsehood and her longevity on screen is worthy of respect. There was a time Deneuve partnered Gérard Depardieu, and in Pola X she partners his son. Moreover, Leos Carax has presented the everlasting lady of French cinema one of the most impressive episodes of her cinematographic biography: a rebellious, wrapped in darkness heroine created by Deneuve wanders around on her motorcycle like a lunatic as if in a visionary dream.

So, it is not unusual to hear Gérard Depardieu saying: “Catherine Deneuve is the man I wished I were.” As he later confessed to Deneuve: “I blurted that out in order to say how much I am jealous of your characteristics, which are often referred to man but rarely found in them.” Depardieu has also confessed that with Catherine he feels “incapable of bad thoughts and roughness”. Depardieu junior from this point of view is not that confused. The new generation has its own system of values. But one of the young actresses in film, Yekaterina Golubeva, whose manner, by the way, straightly betrays her Russian origin, spoke about Leos Carax with great admiration: “Working with such a director is something like soar in the sky regardless of being blue, or cloudy.”

However, not all the people like his maniacal exactingness at set. Julie Delpy, for instance, can share only painful recollections from Bad Blood. When she complained that Carax is a real monster who can drive anyone to despair, one of the journalists reminded her of the words of her great compatriot, Paul Valery, quoting: “Beauty is what drives us to despair.”