A ‘surreal’ film by Leos Carax about a family man, Denis Lavant, who travels to different appointments in his stretch limo. The appointments start from a cinema full of dead people, then there is an electrified dance cum snake fight, he’s an elderly beggar, a mad tramp abducting a fashion model from a cemetery (Pere Lochaise?), he stabs his double, he shoots a banker, leads an accordion band round a cathedral, he meets Kylie Minogue who sings and wants to do away with herself, he meets a girlfriend in a hotel and comes home to another family at night. The stretch limo joins others in a garage and they discuss the day’s events…
This is similar to Cosmopolis insofar as it involves an unusual journey through the day in a white stretch limo. It is also a bit similar to Burt Lancaster’s The Swimmer but whereas that film involved a descent from bourgeoise luxury to eccentricity.
Those who can only take their surrealism with the classical Daliesque bent wheel of Hitchcock’s Spellbound will find this film very irritating. At the most obvious and superficial it could be like a dream though it lacks the claustrophobia you’d expect from that. Its images are out of their usual context, it’s a magical mystery tour around the sheer oddity of our capriciously designated notions of ‘normal’ reality. In an age when anything delphic and rebellious has been comodified by the banalities of Hollywood plot and character requirements, it’s refreshing that Carax sticks two fingers up at those expectations. His characters do the ‘weird’ and unexpected. For me, the appointments are performance art, a way of bracketing time so that we can explore the effect we have on each other. Sometimes the dialogue expresses wishful thinking (in the hotel room with his younger girlfriend) and at other times the responsibility inherent in what we say to each other. Lavant talks about the beauty of the act as if it’s some amoral manifesto for cinema. That beauty means leaving people to suicide or killing. Is this really the adoption of personal? Sometimes it seems more like a fractured self which has no underlying continuity that puts on masks. The roles do seem to be those of typical outsiders; beggar, madman, murderer, confessional presence, counsellor. Each appointment seems to have an episodic structure but is really more like different fragments of a broken mirror.
The chauffeur is called Celine. She could be Lavant’s secretary or mentor, we never know. Sometimes the camera lingers too long on a scene (Monty Python joked about this in The Meaning of Life when a camera follows Eric Idle as he goes on a long walk) but this is the luxury of not observing the Aristotelian rules of beginning, middle and end of a story, daily life is open ended and has none of the satisfying coherence of a simple story. When Carax goes home at night it’s not to the art deco house he left in the morning but to a small apartment he shares with a couple of chimps. This is one of the film’s satirically Bunuel moments. There are also shots of the film’s origins and it ends with talking motor cars but these cars are more like priests than anything out of Disney. Great film.