I admire Leos Carax. How could one not admire a man so fixated on his grandiose ideas that he once bankrupted three producers and built a life-size replica of part of central Paris? At the same time, I confess that I don't so much like Boy Meets Girl, his first film. It leaves me with a feeling of dissatisfaction.
The protagonist, who looks exactly like Nick Cave, is an unemployed young man of ambiguous origins. He lives by himself in a small room somewhere in one of the shadier parts of Paris. When he gets tired of hearing the bickering of the couple next door, he skulks about the streets with his portable cassette player and glowers darkly. By chance, he comes across a depressed young woman named Mireille, and follows her to a party somewhere. He makes her acquaintance, they talk about their woes, and then he gets her to bring him home with her. Finally, disaster strikes and their romance is tragically cut short.
Mireille is also disturbed. She lives with a man who hates her and whom she despises. This situation is painful to her, and has presumably gone on for a long time. However, she shows no desire to change it, and continues to live in idleness, although her boyfriend is not so rich or successful as to be able to provide her with a luxurious existence. She is not married to him, and they have no children. It appears that she has never loved him at any point in time.
The film presents these facts without explaining or analyzing them. So, we learn that the protagonist wants to be a film-maker, although he has never actually made a film, and he does not really want to go through the process of making one. Similarly, we are told that Mireille wanted to be a model, but failed for some reason. We do not learn how they came to accept the lifestyles that they now lead, or even what they think about them. They make no attempts to justify themselves. Consequently, they come across as total ciphers.
Worse yet, both of them are incapable of empathy with each other, or with anyone else. When the main character has a chance to talk to the heroine, he talks about his suffering, argues that the woman should love him because she will eventually grow old and lose her good looks, and suggests that she could participate in a polyamorous relationship with him and his ex-girlfriend. Earlier, we learn that he has mistreated his ex-girlfriend, lied to her and even hit her, and that she has left him. He does not wonder whether she might have had good reason to do so. Mireille's troubles do not interest him either. But he does not even attempt to analyze his own feelings. It is impossible to understand what thoughts, objects and activities comprise his world. His apartment is totally bare. The only object in it is a typewriter that he doesn't use.
Mireille, likewise, is devoid of compassion for anyone other than herself. In depicting her, the film does not show her ever having a single kind thought. Her self-obsession, however, is lacking in self-awareness. She wallows in endless self-pity without really thinking about her life, or even acknowledging events and people around her. She is unwilling to do so. The film gives no plausible explanation for what might have driven her to such a state. Because of this, it is difficult to take her angst seriously.
And, since the film revolves exclusively around the angst of the protagonists, that means that there is nothing else to engage the viewer's own empathy. The viewer is left to wonder, uncharitably, whether the main characters are not merely engaging in such strange behaviour to be fashionable, there being no apparent cause for it in their lives. As the tagline of the film is "love without regrets," this was probably not the director's intention.
In addition, the dialogue is badly written. Carax's later film Lovers On The Bridge is much stronger and more believable in this regard. Here, the characters talk into space, not to each other. With each thing they say, the film becomes progressively more detached from reality. The plot device used to separate the main characters in preparation for the tragedy is especially silly. When Mireille leaves the party and takes the protagonist along, he has to stop somewhere to use the restroom, and then becomes engrossed in an arcade game for no apparent reason, so Mireille gets tired and leaves without him. Carax dwells on the arcade game for longer than necessary. He's not alone there, though. Such acclaimed directors as Wim Wenders and Chris Marker were also unduly fascinated by eighties technology.
To top it all off, the film isn't particularly visually interesting. Certainly it pales in comparison to Carax's own later films. The blurb on the cover says something about "night scenes in Paris," but there are almost no such scenes. Most of the film takes place indoors, in generic-looking apartments and kitchens. Despite Carax's love of the French New Wave, his camera here is boring and static. There are just a couple of Godard-style jump cuts, awkwardly placed. But it's not that he doesn't have a voice of his own. He just hadn't found it yet by this point.
The one scene here that works perfectly is the one where the protagonist overhears his ex-girlfriend talking in bed with her new boyfriend. Not only is it realistic, in contrast with the overwrought monologues that comprise most of the script, but it suddenly makes the protagonist's angst more comprehensible. Surely any man who overheard a woman he loved saying such things would feel just about the same way. Still, I think that the film is weak on the whole, and that Carax's next two films are far superior in both style and content.