Middle aged criminal Marc (Michel Piccoli) is feeling anxious because his associates have all died in quick succession, leaving him and his friend Hans (Hans Meyer) to face the woman, known only as The American (Carroll Brooks), who they owe money to. There's only one way out of it: one last job, but they need a good thief to replace the man who died and so they look to his estranged, equally light fingered son, Alex (Denis Lavant). Alex is much loved by his girlfriend Lise (Julie Delpy), but is growing apart from her and wants to start a new life. This crime could be the very thing that sets him free if the money is good enough - but naturally there are complications...
Probably featuring the most chain smoking since the last Humphrey Bogart movie you saw, Mauvais Sang, also known as The Night is Young and translated as Bad Blood, was scripted, or at least outlined, by its director Leos Carax. It's a romantic thriller set in the future that is not really concerned with science fiction, and I have my doubts at how concerned it is with the thrills, despite its trappings. What's important here is all in the film's appearance, with a striking use of colour, reds whites and blues, and how the characters are arranged in the frame. In fact, if you ignore the storyline then you still find yourself with plenty to keep your eyes occupied.
The science fiction aspect is covered by the McGuffin, which in this case is a new serum to cure a recently emerging disease. In typically pretentious fashion, this disease is S.T.O.B. (we never find out what this stands for), a quasi-A.I.D.S. condition that affects those who have sex with people who they are not in love with, leading both parties to suffer a serious and debilitating affliction. At first you think Alex will contract it from making love with Lise, as although she is truly devoted to him he wants to get away from her, and leaves her a note and his motorbike but is still chased through the streets by his spurned, desperate lover who refuses to accept it's all over.
Meanwhile, Alex has to get his hands on his money so he can leave the country to begin afresh, and so goes to meet Marc and Hans, only to find that he is very attracted by Marc's much younger girlfriend Anna (Juliette Binoche with a tiny voice). Anna may still be very much in love with Marc, but she's charmed by Alex even though it's difficult to see why either woman would be taken with the sour-faced, grumpy confidence trickster. Perhaps it's his talent with ventriloquism? He doesn't even use a dummy! Anyway, a keen rivalry erupts between Marc and Alex, including a ridiculous wrestling match that they indulge in when they get on each other's nerves.
The whole film verges on the ridiculous, actually, seeing as how precious it is about love and the passions it evokes. There are plenty of "cute" situations as the weather changes abruptly from sweltering to freezing due to the presence of Halley's Comet overhead. When it's warm, of course Alex has to carry Anna over the too-hot tarmac to the hotel across the street, lean out of the door while on the phone to catch sight of her through her window, and run and prance down the road while David Bowie's "Modern Love" blares on the soundtrack in a scene undeniably invigorating. And when it's cold, it snows and the mood turns melancholy with the robbery imminent. Mauvais Sang may be affected almost to a fault, but it is lovely to look at and verges on the sweetly naive in its preoccupations and pretence to tragedy, yet remains underdeveloped in areas other than its swooning glamour. If you like this kind of thing you'll like it a lot.
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.