After 13. edition

Holy MotorsHoly Motors
Festival Spotlight
22 July 2013
Festival Spotlight - The Look of Love

Cinéma du look is a term coined by critic Raphaël Bassan in 1989 to describe a collection of films by a group of French filmmakers who emerged earlier in the decade. Their films employ a striking visual style, frequently feature doomed or impossible love affairs and display a distrust of the establishment. They are also inventive in their use of Parisian locations, particularly the city's subterranean world. The three filmmakers most closely associated with the movement are Jean-Jacques Beineix, Luc Besson and Leos Carax, and the films that defined it are featured in a comprehensive retrospective screening over the course of the festival.

Beineix's debut Diva is credited with kick-staring the movement. A mesmerising multi-narrative crime thriller involving corrupt cops, a girl on the run and an opera-obsessed postman, it is a visually resplendent pop-pastiche of classic genres, with a style that raged against the plainness of other films of the era. Diva's swooning romanticism would be magnified in Beineix's follow-up features, 1983's The Moon in the Gutter and 1986's Betty Blue, which saw a million students' walls plastered with an image of its eponymous heroine, played by Beatrice Dalle. Since then Beineix has made only two features.

Besson entered the fray in 1984 with Subway, a comedy thriller set mostly on the Paris Metro, with engaging performances by Isabelle Adjani and Christophe Lambert. The Big Blue followed in 1988 and Nikita in 1990, which were popular with audiences but derided by critics for their shallowness. Since then, Besson's work, which has included 1994's Léon and 1997's The Fifth Element has veered more towards the mainstream and the vacuous.

Leos Carax is the movement's brightest star. Like Beineix he is hardly prolific, having made just five films in thirty years. After the arresting Boy Meets Girl (1984) and Mauvais Sang (1986), starring regular collaborator Denis Lavant, Carax scored a huge success with 1991's Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. The director followed it eight years later with the bold and beguiling Pola X, loosely based on Melville's 'Pierre: or, The Ambiguities'. Unfortunately, it was met with bafflement from audiences and critics. He returned last year with Holy Motors. A far cry from the themes of the movement he had been associated with, it is a sumptuous exploration of cinema that showed once again why Carax has always been the filmmaker to watch.

Ian Haydn Smith

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