Studying acting at university I had this friend who was one of the most committed physical performers I’ve ever seen. It was incredible, but also made him a terrible actor because you could see every ounce of effort that he was putting in. At one point in a movement workshop, we did that old levels of tension exercise — how does your character move when at ease, how do they move under immense physical stress? We had to call it off when he gave himself a nosebleed halfway through.
Anyway, we’d been having debates about film acting, and he was of the opinion that after the silent age cinema had no great physical performers. My rebuttal was Denis Lavant, told him to watch this, Beau Travail , Holy Motors and some of his work with Johnathan Glazer. I don’t think he actually ever did, he was always more a theatre person anyways.
I watched this for the first time when we were doing a real lot of work on clowning, which is maybe why that still feels like what the film is to me. Looking at the place of the clown, his character, struggling with it’s contradictions and the way that it contradicts with contemporary art.
Alex is a jester, walking around in this bright patterned jacket against this monotone world, getting in scrapes, making a living with his fast hands. Like the clown he has simple desires: love, money; but he is also aware that he is undeserving of them — so must, everywhere he goes, sow the seeds of his own demise. He’s a tragic character, but every lazzi must end with him still holding hope for the future.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about think about the scene with the shaving foam, or the fight where their face are smooshed up against the window, or the fruit games, or the bit with the too short telephone wire. They’re fun gags and good, and they always end up with something gone to fuckup.
I think back then I wanted more of those real self contained bits, more definable action, it starts and ends so fast yet holds so long on Juliette Binoche in the middle. I respect that more now, having found myself caught up in obsession and knowing how it can completely overwhelm.
I’d say the camera was attentive, but with this edit it literally feels like it embodies attention itself. Those blinks it does, the kind made in dozy nights spent willing away sleep, where it could be any amount of time passed between conscious thought. The film inviting the audience to experience the start of a new thought along with it’s characters, wiping the slate clean.
It’s always shocking when you see grass here too. Everything’s so industrial otherwise, there’s no green. It’s weirdly unnatural to these character’s world and always comes tinged with death. It’s fun, but these are two too pretty people and it can’t end happily.
Mauvais Sang is currently streaming in the UK on Mubi.