Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Luxury of Desperate Gamblers: Andrzej Zulawski's "L'Amour Braque" (1985)

Niche film fans of all nations and genres can rejoice with the release of three borderline hysterical (in all senses of the word) Andrzej Zulawksi films onto DVD, via the amazing Mondo Vision. The first of them I've seen is 1985's L'AMOUR BRAQUE, an insane, coked-up little miracle which prefigures the anarchic Joker scenes in LE CHEVALIER NOIR (below), including the maniacal burning of mass amounts of money and gleefully lysergic/anarchic assaults on the conventions of the bourgeoisie and capitalism! Did Chris Nolan and Heath Ledger see this movie? Or are they and Braque's director Andrzej Zulawski birds of a feather? Or is Zulawski way beyond even BATMAN? Can he be more like a slavering psychedelic poet, post-Panic Movement/post-gialli post-Godardian in his heedless kineticism, surfeit de style and spastic physicality or did someone just dump LSD into the Parisian water supply?

Any way you slice him, what a real treat to find such a worthy yet under-explored canon, all presented so lushly we can go excavating this New World in air conditioned style. A whole catalog of Zulawski's awesome films-- few of which (other than POSSESSION) have been seen at all here in the US-- are coming our way on beautiful DVDs. MondoVision plans on releasing nine in all! Jokers, start your burning!

Though L'AMOUR BRAQUE carries a 1985 French action movie glossy punk style (ala the violent late-80s/early-90s nocturnal neon decor of films you might know like SUBWAY or LA FEMME NIKITA) it's actually an art film, or a drug film, Brechtian... of course, with great gobs of classical Russian literature references that, I don't mind saying, were partially over my head. Tcheky Karyo stars, or co-stars! SUBWAY! I glean what I can get, and figure I'll finish the Karamazovs when I can. Until then, those cheesy 80s synth stabs and and Mondo Vision's lovely transfer and well-written subtitles all fuel the rush of Zulawski's poetic post-structuralist approach in a way that echoes the accidental poetry of old HK movies, the kind of fractured English subtitles and plots so rapid and crazy that to even think about what's going on for a half a second means to be lost, but to just trust your instincts and let go of the rails means to experience a giddy and unique cine-high.

Zulawski's film may look on the surface enough like a normal 80s French action movie movie, but it would probably weird out a whole room of relatively un-intoxicated bros if they were expecting Luc Besson-ish linearity in addition to the Luc Besson-ish glamor, especially with the subtitles off. And action fans who wondered--as I did--if Karyo was just a dud actor with his stone-faced performance in NIKITA can now know for sure, as his character in BRAQUE is wayyy out there. Not even the same guy, if I can paraphrase William Demarest in THE LADY EVE. 

Zulawski has a weird way of feeding you his movie plots subliminally. Somehow or other, as you're pulled along by the scruff of your neck, with no time to get your bearings, you realize that, if you don't think about it too much (as with the aforementioned HK films), you know just what's happening. Francis Huster is the hero, a down-for-whatever Czech refugee named Leon, who finds himself spontaneously adopted by the drunken (coked up?) Mickey (Karyo) and his gang of laughing, joking, Nietzsche-quoting Arab terrorists. The beautiful Sophie Marceau shows up as Mickey's--and soon Leon's--obsession, ensuring neither man can ever leave the other alone for a minute for the rest of the film, lest he gain ground. A perennial 'lost soul" rich girl using Micky and his terrorist friends as dupes, acting coy and lost and doomed, they practically kill each other jostling to be the one to wipe out her enemies. Cockblocking and seducing right and left, they chase and are chased and adore each other and then there's Leon's hot cousin Aglae (Christiane Jean, below) who competes for Leon's attention while performing in a version of Chekhov's "The Seagull".

Zulawski loves the Russian classics.

Meanwhile, a strange cop follows the gang around, and in one sun-dappled grilling scene, notes that Mickey and company carry on with the "luxury of desperate gamblers", a telling phrase I bothered to write down and thought a most clever title, because it describes most of the film--indeed most of Zulawski's output based on what I've seen. There's very little stopping to regroup or fortify positions here, the way someone on a manic high knows that if they stop to go to sleep or nurture negative thinking, their luck will change and their whole holy mindset will crash into nothingness and despair, so they keep on drinking, gambling and laughing like maniacs, terrified that if they fall asleep it will all be just a dream when they wake up. 

If things get rough with this film, may I suggest good way to get through the weirdness of the onscreen action (if you're not going to 'roll' along, as the slangin' goes--which would be the best way) is to ground them in other movies you may be more familiar with, like bizarro world remakes in a vein of post-modern ultra-violence satire we Americans have hardly seen except for Kathryn Bigelow.  When you see the robbers in their Disney masks knocking off a bank in the opening sequence you might think of POINT BREAK, but when you see them horsing through an impromptu number on their getaway route, they're like a dozen Harpo Marxes on a blood bender or the Groucho-guerrillas in the films of Emir Kusturica. But these names just locate the onscreen insanity in some kind of loose contextual framework, because otherwise, goddamn it, this stuff is so fucked-up in its mad play on action genre and bourgeoisie art film expectations and modernist subversions that it can be hard to know where to set your bearings... I mean, unless you are first "experienced" or have spent time in a lunatic theater company, or seen a lot of Bergman movies about lunatic theater companies.

One might think that two hours of nearly nonstop shouting, kicking over vases, affronting the mores of capitalism and frothing at the succulently lipsticked mouth would grate on one's nerves, but Zulawski is such a master of pace and rhythm that he never gets you too worn out or cranky. And what works too is that, though these guys are all insane--and maybe this is just the French way--all the passers-by and authority figures go along with their gags, like it would be rude not to; when a crazy Marxist sticks a gun to your temple in Zulawsksi country, it's considered declasse' to panic or plead. One must do the right thing and smile and pat the man's hand in encouragement and go into a calm, submissive state  (Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan). Sudden gunfights erupt, cars get smashed and people run around throwing smoke bombs and breaking windows and all it gets from the gendarmes is that famous Parisian shrug. What ever happened to these kind of films? The most recent attempt at this kind of thing was, I'm afraid was BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS starring Bruce Willis.

One of my biggest regrets as an actor/filmmaker was in QUEEN OF DISKS (2007), when a Clare Horgan as the Queen of Disks stuck a knife to my throat as I was drinking coffee I missed a chance to do a spit take! My innate decency and worry about spilling coffee on my ratty jeans stopped me from doing one and/or dropping the coffee cup, just letting it spill all over me and crash to the floor and break. You know how impossible those things can be to do intentionally? Like when someone pays you to pee in your pants, and you just can't do it, no matter how hard you try?

These guys in this film? They don't have that problem.

They crowd surf into total candy-coated confusion; they roll around on tables laden with food and the waiters don't bat an eyelash; they spazz out and sing at the top of their lungs while being chased by cops in riot gear; and it would all just be posturing if Zulawski didn't capture a realistic sense of Parisian hustle and bustle like he's a freakin' Oscar-hungry auteur riche. When you're wading deep into a well-crafted, lit, Parisian streetcorner, man, you're into some fucked up architecture if you're seeing it on a good HD screen, you can see right up into the cobwebbed corners between the gargoyles. 

It all makes you realize that while someone like Godard's a great one for deconstructing genre, he's a bad one at capturing the momentum of genre itself-- poor Jean Pierre Leaud or Belmondo, for example, always seemed to carry an inherent decency that stops them from peeing on people's trousers or throwing grenades into dining rooms or dropping coffee cups full of coffee on themselves and letting the cup shatter on the linoleum floor. If they did, it was often just to a picture of a comic book "Bang!" or riot footage that exploded. Not in this film, baby. That's action like Van Damme! Zoot alors!  A+

PS - Speaking of Godard and watching things 2 or 3 times to get all the details, I highly recommend checking in with Drew at the Blue Vial, whose been on a Godard marathon bender, and, neatest of all, actually lists the numbers of times he's seen each film and skewers the review towards how his thought this time around differ from his earlier thoughts on the same film. It's a very steady and interesting project, and you can't help but marvel at his attention span, considering all the long, tedious stationary shots of girls being interviewed by condescending pretty boy trust fund Marxists. I ask you this: in a Marxist society would we have such cool DVDs of L'AMOR BRAQUE? Non? Then to hell with Marx!


  1. Thanks for the link and kind words Eric!

    As far as Zulawski goes, I've only seen Possession, which I of course found wonderfully idiosyncratic and wild in the best possible way. He's been a director I've kept in the back of my mind since, and the type of gleeful lunacy you describe here ups my curiosity to nearly unavoidable heights. In fact, this:

    "When you see the robbers in their Disney masks knocking off a bank in the opening sequence you might think of Michael Mann or someone, but when you see them dance an impromptu number on their getaway route, they're like a dozen Harpo Marxes on a cocaine bender, or the Groucho-guerrillas in the films of Emir Kusturica."

    makes me want to drop everything I'm doing and seek this out at once!

  2. Richard Doyle25 March, 2010

    You mean "The Dark Knight", don't you? "Batman Returns" is the Tim Burton flick.

  3. God DAMN IT! I hate that movie. Yes, Richard. Thank you. The Dark Knight.


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