Q&A with Leos Carax at TIFF, August 10, 2013: Some Rules and Etiquette


Holy Motors is one of the most important films in recent years. During a TIFF retrospective of his work, Modern Love, Carax was kind enough to come answer some questions. If we take the questions of audience members seriously however, there is little to actually say about his work and his newest film. Never had I seen and heard such a lack of engagement on the part of what I assume to be an intelligent crowd. I want to reflect on these 20 or so minutes of Q&A through the positing of a number of rules that will hopefully guide future audience members with their questions or keep them silent. In a somewhat particular order:

The first is to know your interlocutor. This means do your research on the individual, not just their work, ideas, etc., but how they speak about their work, ideas, etc. In Carax’s case he is an elusive individual, and as we discovered at the Q&A, far from eloquent, concise, and at times even comprehensible. This we should have known prior to asking questions because we should have read one of the few interviews the director was willing to undergo. We have in the Kohn interview three powerful remarks on his personality:

I mostly don’t submit to talking about my work because I would like another talk about real life. I don’t think men were meant to be interviewed.

Men talk about art, and artists make art, but should artists talk?

Very few filmmakers are good at talking about their work, very few artists are good at talking about their work.

Based on our research we should have expected very little from the director.

Second: do your research on the work. Again, this would entail reading at least some interviews and commentary so those who have done the bare minimum of research do not have to suffer through the same questions previously posed by other interviewers. Most questions asked to Carax on the night of the 10th had already been asked by Kohn, many of which, like we discovered at TIFF, were taken in another direction by the director or dismissed entirely.

Third, and this is the most essential, ask questions about the person or topic. This follows from the first two. When you have the opportunity to ask an artist one question and one question alone, make it count. Do not ask where he gets his ideas from or where his creativity is derived. (Yes, more or less the same question asked twice during the TIFF Q&A period.) Likely the respondent will just stare dumbfounded at the questioner . Do not ask a person in film to work with you on your own film. I would have been more impressed with the audience member who asked Carax to help him with his film shoot had he instead requested the director to fuck him. Both questions are equally out of place.

Fourth, empty flattery wastes yours and the respondent’s time. Carax has screened his film around the world and has won awards at some of the most respected and known festivals. His spirits will not be lifted by an undergraduate who has seen all his work and appreciates it.

Fifth, if you cannot speak the language of the respondent, do not speak in his language. This almost goes without saying. If you cannot formulate it in French, in this case, do not bother to do so.  It is embarrassing for you, the respondent, and everyone in the audience.

Sixth, if you have done your research and have something worthwhile to contribute to the discussion, be clear and precise in your formulation of the question. There was a question about sound in his film which neither I nor Carax quite understood; there was also a question about the role of painting in his work, to which he responded, he knows nothing about painting. See rule three.

Seventh and perhaps the worst rule to break: be careful about how smart you think you are. One of the more exciting things for cinephiles about Holy Motors is the referents or quotations, although Carax denies that they are either of these. Carax, in a number of ways, refers to other feature films but in a way which does not hinder your understanding of the story or plot if the referent is lost or unknown. Carax had previously addressed this question of referents in the Kohn interview and when a question about referents was posed (the questioner had to list all the ones he found in the film), I cringed. Carax waved his hand at the question and claimed these quotations are not there – but you can see them there if you want, he says. He does give us one answer however, the same he provides to Kohn. Of the direct referent to Georges Franju he said that he had always wanted Scob in a film and she had previously starred in Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans Visage, 1960), a film which had her don a mask, and therefore we have the mask at the end of Holy Motors. In the Kohn interview Carax “almost” regrets adding this meaningless touch to the finale of the film “because people keep asking me about it.” No doubt 10 months later he is sick of the question.

These referents then are all equally meaningless, or rather, their only meaning is that they are films and Holy Motors, among many other things, is a film about the history of cinema. Thus Carax said in the Q&A that the referents come from the unconscious, which is to say his past and all the films which he has seen, appearing as they do just because they fit or add a little mystery, shock, or amusement. In a dream sometimes a banana is just a banana.

The Q&A was not a complete waste of my time. I gained some more insight into Holy Motors, was able to produce a text (which may or may not be published elsewhere), saw Carax falter and avoid direct questions, and through the mostly uninspired questions from the audience was also able to develop this provisional set of rules on how to ask questions during a Q&A session.

Um, like, where do I like, get my like, ideas from? My rules and etiquette seem to have come from nowhere rather than meticulous research. Nevertheless, to that eloquent member of the audience that posed the same question to Carax, I reply: from you.


Thoughts on Holy Motors

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