It’s significant that a large portion of Léos Carax’s sophomore film, Bad Blood (1986), takes place between the time a young man is offered a potentially dangerous job involving the theft of a rare miracle drug and the day the heist finally arrives, since it gives the film its signature sense of bohemian angst, of rootless people killing time while waiting for something bad to happen. This plays to Carax’s strength, which lies not in the area of storytelling but rather in the creation of an anxious and dreamlike mise-en-scène, punctuated by outbursts of joy and terror.
The film unfolds in a near future where a fatal disease called STBO, spread by any insincere act of love, has reached plague proportions. This intriguing concept turns out to be the film’s “McGuffin,” Hitchcock’s term for a plot generator which, having served its purpose, is left unexplored.
Instead the focus is on Alex (Denis Lavant), a young man reluctantly drawn into this one last caper and into the lives of an aging gangster, Marc (Michel Piccoli) and his youthful paramour Anna (Juliette Binoche). Alex is a bit of a cipher, his face in repose a hard-to-read, beetle-browed mug, as he perches between the fatalistic Marc and the angelic Anna, trying to will himself into a triangle.
There are several exhilarating set pieces here — a sky-diving episode with Alex and a passed-out Anna hanging from an airplane, a bravura sequence with Alex dancing down several blocks of a dark street to David Bowie’s “Modern Love” — but, as with all of Carax’s films, there’s a stream of unspecified dissatisfaction running beneath the cool visuals, a secret and somewhat lofty sadness which sets a pervasively brooding tone.
But if his self-seriousness doesn’t quite reach the romantic heights he reaches for, there’s no denying his artistry. Carax makes being in a funk seem interesting.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].