Leos Carax is the most bohemian guy I’ve ever met: elegantly shoddy in a worn leather jacket and a beat-up leather hat, chain-smoking as he chats with journalists in the courtyard of the French Institute in Athens. Speaking in low tones, he describes cinema as a lonely island, at the center of which is a huge, beautiful cemetery containing the remains of all of its creators.
Once an enfant terrible of the French cinema, the 55-year-old director’s bold films are being shown in a tribute to his work at the 8th Athens Avant-Garde Film Festival, running through Wednesday, November 26, at the Greek Film Archive (48 Iera Odos, Kerameikos, tel 210.360.9695).
“When I was a boy I wanted to become a musician but I didn’t have the gift. I discovered the significance of cinema when I was around 16 or 17, and by 24 I had seen a lot of films from what was then the entire body of cinema. At some point I decided it was no longer enough to watch the films of others, so I decided to make my own,” Carax said, adding that he has stopped watching films and going to festivals for several years, preferring to read and travel.
The process of making a film is hard and painful but necessary, said Carax. “I need the process of the shoot; the machines, all the people. Sometimes making a film can lead you to strange places, so it is better if you are not alone.”
Among these people are his actors and Carax admits that he has always forged a close relationship with his protagonists and even got romantically involved with some, such as Juliette Binoche.
“I have never understood casting. It’s such a violent thing, almost racist,” he said. “I try to imagine the film based on the specific people I have in mind but there were times had to make a casting call.”
The concept of fear is key for Carax. “Fear is a huge issue. It’s everywhere and always everything in this world can be defined by it. Personally I don’t feel like a proper filmmaker so every film I have done was with the fear that I would have to pretend to be one in order to solve some practical problem or another,” he explained. “This is probably why I like to be prepared. I never improvise.”
Asked why he agreed to visit Greece to attend the film festival even though he has opted to stay out of the limelight for so many years, Carax simply said, “You are screwed and it’s always nice to be among people who are screwed.”