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Directed by Leos Carax
Screenplay by Leos Carax
Denis Lavant, Édith Scob
How long is Holy Motors? 115 minutes.
What is Holy Motors rated? Not rated.
‘Motors’ Drives Us Into The Ethereal World of Film
Holy Motors, this year’s second crazy day-long limousine movie after David Cronenberg’s disappointing Cosmopolis, ends up as one of 2012’s most entertaining cinematic experiences. Possibly partially inspired by the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, Holy Mountain), as well as Godard, Fellini, Buster Keaton, and a myriad of other iconic names, Holy Motors is a manic film about love of movies. A common topic over the past few years, with Hugo and The Artist as the most noteworthy examples, Holy Motors offers a different and unique spin on the subject of cinephilia. At this point, I should let readers know that going into Holy Motors cold, as I did, may produce a more enjoyable viewing because it will better allow you to be surprised and taken in by the happenstances.
Written and directed by French filmmaker Leos Carax, Holy Motors stars Denis Lavant as M. Oscar, which is just one of his many aliases. An “actor” of sorts, Oscar is employed by a mysterious agency, but we never find out exactly whom he works for or what exactly he does. What we do know is that Oscar begins this typical day of his presumably as a businessman who leaves his heavily guarded house to go into a limousine driven by Celine (Edith Scob, Eyes Without a Face), who it turns out is the only constant in his life. Soon, he emerges as a beggar woman asking for change on a busy street corner. This is just one of Oscar’s many assignments that he needs to go on throughout the day. For every project, he must change his appearance and personality drastically. A motion capture artist, a tired father with a sullen daughter, and a dying old man represent just some of the personas adopted by him.
More a collection of vignettes than one single story, Holy Motors features each of Oscar’s “characters” as the star of their own short, often bizarre, film. This format allows Carax to experiment with many different styles, and one feels the pleasure he has in staging a crime drama, a melodrama, and a musical intermission. Even though he expresses a genuine disappointment with the move towards increasingly smaller, practically invisible cameras and the loss of actual film, one doesn’t get the sense that Carax treats any genre as superior to others. There’s a fascination and occasional eroticism to the artistry of each style that shines through in the segments, even during the behind-the-scenes of a CGI-heavy product as our lead becomes a motion capture artist replicating a soldier and a copulating dragon. The film’s arguably most memorable sequence features Oscars as a crazed vagabond who eats flowers and assaults people before kidnapping a dead-eyed model (Kay M., Eva Mendes) and dragging her to his underground lair to the delight of her photographer who loves the “beauty and the beast” imagery. Playing off the culture of celebrity without being overly judgmental, this part is representative of the film as a whole — self-aware but lacking pretentiousness.
While Holy Motors is clearly birthed and nurtured by Carax, the film could not have worked without a lead as strong as Lavant. Hopefully a dark horse Best Actor candidate, Lavant manages to inhabit 11 different characters and makes us connect with all of them in relatively short periods of time. Even though we see him putting on his make-up and costume, as soon as the next story begins, it’s “Le mendiante” or “Le mourant” or “M. Merde,” and not Oscar playing those roles. Like every good character actor, Oscar seems game for any assignment and manages to hide himself in the person. Although his employer (Michel Piccoli) criticizes him for not having his heart in his work, he still performs each routine like a consummate “Hey! It’s That Guy”-type professional, who is able to hide the boredom and disgust even during the most demeaning parts.
Lavant provides the film with a somberness by showing the increasing weariness of Oscar. Although each “film” within the film gives us the excitement we want from our movies, Holy Motors shows that when the cameras are off, it’s really quite grueling for the people we gawk at on screen. Every segment is self-contained, but in the limo we see the toll the repetitiveness of the job has on him. Even if Oscar purposefully lacks an identity of his own, we get a sense that there is a man behind the mask. And his very brief relationship with Eva (Kylie Minogue), a fellow “actor,” has the pleasant camaraderie of two colleagues who recognize that only those in the know can ever really understand what the job is like.
As an “art house” movie, Holy Motor probably has a limited reach, which is disappointing considering just how enjoyable it is to watch and how inviting it is to audiences. It showcases the best of these “weird,” offbeat films in their ability to generate humor, emotions, ideas, and the fun that can only come when terrific filmmakers have the freedom to abandon convention and indulge their imaginations.