A woman takes her child with some luggage and the artwork of her estranged husband and heads out into the Paris night, before stopping at the river. There she telephones her husband and tells him she has decided to go to the mountains and is dumping his precious paintings into the water, which she does after hanging up. Watching this with bemusement is Thomas (Christian Cloarec), who has troubles of his own, not least when his best friend walks with him then attacks him, strangling then pushing him into the river. Alex (Denis Lavant) has a grudge...
And all the way through Boy Meets Girl Alex, and we in the audience, keep finding the hopes of love dashed on the rocks of reality, where nobody can really satisfy anyone else in the affairs of the heart. The film is shot through with a sensitive, bruised romanticism and nowhere is this brought out more in the soul searching of Alex. Funnily enough, the director Leos Carax's real name is Alex, and as this was his first film it's the kind of work that makes you think that maybe he had been unlucky in love judging by the conclusions he draws here.
If Alex is the boy of the title, then who is the girl? She is Mireille (Mireille Perrier), and she is equally lovelorn as her live-in boyfriend has come to realise he doesn't love her anymore yet still wants her all to himself even if the idea of love now disgusts him. Naturally, this turn of events does not put the young woman in a terrific frame of mind, and all the way through she toys with the idea of ending it all, as she cannot see a way out of her predicament. Alex, however, could be just the tonic she needs, if only she could recognise that.
And if only they had met a little earlier in the film they might have had something to build on, but Carax cruelly does not allow them to, well, meet until the story is about an hour in, over halfway through in fact. Before that, Alex has sort of encountered Mireille when he stops in the street to hear her boyfriend say all those terrible things to her over the intercom of their apartment block, but while he feels sympathy, he simply cannot get the thoughts of Florence, his ex, out of his mind. We never actually see Florence, but in a typical bit of coyness we hear her voice as she discusses some pretty racy topics with Thomas, which Alex is eavesdropping on.
Funnily enough, all this poor me characterisation doesn't grate too much, partly because Carax is fairly subtle with it, but mostly because the black and white photography by Jean-Yves Escoffier is so luminously beautiful that it captivates you even as you're being dragged into the depths of these personalities' despair. Mainly this is shot at night, with some arresting imagery that makes the city and the interiors appear to have a dreamlike cast, so when Alex meets various odd people we hardly believe we're in a real city at all. Add to that some rather precious scenes such as where Mireille practices her tap dancing while David Bowie plays on the soundtrack, and you could have a film that might have been a big turn-off to all but the most misty-eyed viewers. Yet, the too ironically tragic ending apart, Boy Meets Girl weaves a spell all its own.
Stylish, semi-improvisational French writer-director, a former critic who developed from short films into features with the well regarded Boy Meets Girl. However, it was the futuristic romance Mauvais Sang that really awarded him international attention and all looked well for his lavish love story follow up, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. Unfortunately it was a failure and it was the end of the nineties before his subsequent film, family drama Pola X, arrived. Carax's cult following increased when after making short films for the next decade he completed his curious, much discussed feature Holy Motors which delighted and confounded in equal measure. Often works with Denis Lavant.