September 19, 2013
Boy Meets Girl – France, 1984
Leos Carax’s 1984 film, Boy Meets Girl, is about a young man and a young woman in France pursuing similar dreams and coming up empty. Their respective failures have landed them into situations that neither one of them can truly be proud of, and the choices they have made reveal a degree of personal failure that is every bit as tragic as the scenes of misery that surround them. Make no mistake about it: the France in this film bares no resemblance to the romance-filled version that exists in the minds of moviegoers and book enthusiasts. In fact, from the film’s very first scene to its last tragic moment, France is a pool of bad decisions, immature responses, threats of violence, and broken hearts. When moments of true love do appear, they are made to resemble museum artifacts that elicit looks of wonder and awe. They’re meant to be gawked at and studied, as if to say, “So that’s what it looks like.”
The boy referred to in the film’s title is Alex (Denis Lavant), a young man who yearns to be a screenwriter. The problem is that he has lived a rather secluded life, and this has apparently given his nothing to write about. In short, he is a boy in search of a muse. The girl is Mireille (Mireille Perrier), and from her opening scene, we get the impression that she has lost all sense of joy and direction. She may even be suicidal. And yet, watch her when she puts on her dancing shoes and begins tap dancing. And witness her at a party later in the film; see the way she uses a handkerchief as a prop and does a spot on impersonation of a silent film comic. In both scenes, she’s a revelation, and it’s not hard to imagine her in earlier times having a successful career on the Vaudeville circuit.
The film is full of other fascinating moments. There’s the humorous phone call that the boy receives from his father, the boy’s brief interaction with a female patron at a bar, the awkward conversation between a new pair of lovers in which one of them keeps referring to her ex, and the odd way that partygoers periodically freeze in place at a party thrown on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. There also the former astronaut at the party who stares up at the moon that he once walked on and smiles like a man in love. As interesting as these moments are, perhaps my favorite of the film involves an elderly man who uses sign language to bemoan how silent the youth are these days. The scene reminded me of the conversation in Vivre Sa Vie between Nana and Brice Parain, and like that scene, this one is also a missed learning experience.
The film owes a great deal to the black and white French and Italian films of the 1950’s and 1960’s, which didn’t always tell stories of healthy, successful relationships and often used the camera in new and intriguing ways. Here, the film appears to be an actual person at times. It even blinks at inopportune moments, just as the rest of us do. At other times, the camera shows viewers one scene, while playing the audio of something quite different. This is done, I believe, to demonstrate how Alex – and motion pictures in general – take unplanned emotional moments, which are often filled with rambling speeches, false starts, and abrupt endings, and make them sound utterly poetic. At other times, Alex seems to be willing the actions that we see take place. In one scene, he seems to cue the woman who lives in the next apartment to walk out during a heated and possibly dangerous argument with her husband. His reason: He wants to be there to save her. It is as if he is calling “action” for his own life experiences.
So what does the film add up to? I confess I’m not entirely sure. I have no doubt that some people who see the film will praise it and declare it a masterpiece, while an equal number of people will walk away perplexed and bewildered, ready to dismiss it completely. I can understand both reactions. By the end of the film, have we seen the truth, or have we seen the musings of a writer at work, the imagined and improvised scenarios of a screenwriter trying to find the correct ending to a story that he is frantically trying to map out as he goes along? One scene in particular may provide a clue. In one of the film’s most daring and comprehension-shattering moments, we see Mireille, collapse on her bed utterly exhausted. Without a blackout, we then see what appears to be the same location the following morning, only instead of Mireille, it is Alex that awakens. Again, what does it all mean?
Boy Meets Girl is not the easiest film to love, for it intentionally keeps a distance from its audience. There is much left unsaid, and consequently we don’t get the explanations or the closure we seek. So be it. With its world of dark shadows, broken relationships, and mannequin-esqe existence, the film creates an understandable nostalgia for things past, for a time when life was said to be better and simpler. It was never truly like this of course, yet for many people, the movies created an impression that it was supposed to be. Boys Meets Girl shatters this. At least, I think it does. (on DVD)
3 and a half stars
*Boy Meets Girl is in French with English subtitles.