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Léos Carax & The Island of Cinema

Léos Carax & The Island of Cinema

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“To talk about cinema for me is a bit of a nightmare; to talk about it in full light is more of a nightmare…I’ll try, even so.” So said Léos Carax, the great French filmmaker, during the Q & A held in the Spazio Cinema Forum on a scorching Thursday afternoon with Olivier Père, a crowd of critics, journalists, filmmakers (Locarno guest Bradley Rust Gray, director of Jack & Diane, was among those to ask a question) and fans.

Carax is known for his timid demeanor and aversion to speaking with press. Earlier this year at Cannes, he was visibly uncomfortable and in no mood to discuss his new film, Holy Motors, at any length.

As a shy, private person, public forums are not his forte —however: the cinephilic and welcoming environment established by Père at the Locarno Film Festival made for a different context in which Carax found himself opening up, whether it be on his new film, his career, or his thoughts on life and cinema in general: “Life with cinema…It’s something I discovered when I was 16.

I had a feeling I was discovering my country or rather an island surrounded by water, but it’s not easy to reach. Life and cinema—one is the reverse of the other—when you are in life it is difficult to look at it but it’s easier when you are on the island.”
Carax spoke of his fondness for machines and his suspicion of the virtual.

The distinction between these two forces being one of the preoccupations of Holy Motors, in which a limousine transports the mysterious Monsieur Oscar, played by the inimitable Denis Levant, from one life to another:  “I love computers, but they are not machines for me. You have to be able to see or hear the engines for it to be a machine. If I can’t hear it, then it’s ‘networking’, ‘communication, that I don’t like very much. Cameras are machines, we can make beautiful things with them.”

Concerning Levant, who plays no fewer than eleven characters in the film, Carax referred to him as “indispensable”. Many critics were shocked when Levant didn’t take home the best actor prize at Cannes, and when Holy Motors didn’t take home an award either, but Carax’ films are finding a strong audience in Locarno - all of his features are screening throughout the festival, including his latest, which though many claim it to be cerebral, the filmmaker insists that it’s “simple” and that “a child could understand it”. Well, that is, if “you accept that you don’t know where you’re going”.

Nicknamed “Chatterbox” as a child for his infamous quiet personality, Carax defied ironically fulfilling this label on Thursday. Those lucky enough to have been on the scene as the auteur offered valuable insight into his work and artistic beliefs witnessed a master tease us with hints of his secrets: “I don’t think I write scripts. The film starts with two or three images, and two or three feelings, and then it’s all coincidences.” Cinema? For Carax, he says: “It’s my island.”

Adam Cook

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