‘Weird! Weird! It’s so weird!’ That’s not a quote from a punter leaving a screening of French eccentric Leos Carax’s first feature film in 13 years (he’s still best known for 1991’s ‘Les Amants du Pont-Neuf’), though it could be. No, they’re the elated words of an on-screen photographer after encountering perhaps the most alarming of the guises adopted by the film’s shape-shifting anti-hero, Oscar (an astonishing Denis Lavant): this version of Oscar is a Rumpelstiltskin-type grotesque who bites off two of the photographer’s fingers before dragging supermodel Kay-M (good sport Eva Mendes) underground to dine on her hair in the nude.
This is one of many such vignettes in Carax’s hypnotically inscrutable story, a cinematic revolving door constantly entered and exited by Oscar, who may or may not be the subject of an invisibly steered reality show. Or make that a sur-reality show: Oscar inserts himself into a series of role-playing scenarios of escalating outlandishness, his instructions fed to him by a stoic limousine driver (Edith Scob).
A day’s work finds Oscar enacting CGI frottage with an actress in a motion-capture bodysuit; begging on the street dressed as a bent-backed crone; and pursuing an ex-lover (Kylie Minogue, surprisingly affecting) around the ruins of a derelict department store.
Weird, yes. But even at its most absurd (chimps are involved), there’s something tender and truthful about Carax’s hall-of-mirrors irrationality, the sense of an artist so weary of human realities that he has no choice but to twist them into the more beautiful shapes afforded by cinema. By the time Scob references the character she played 62 years ago in the seminal French horror ‘Eyes Without a Face’, you might feel a shiver – it’s hard to say what forces are propelling this ecstatic, idiotic, fizzy, frightening provocation, but we’re moved by them too.