Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Michel Piccoli
Synopsis: A day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (Lavant), a man travelling in his limousine to a string of “appointments” where, in each, he takes on a new identity and agenda.
One of the leading film critics, André Bazin, titled a series of essays “What is cinema?” (“Qu’est-ce que le cinema?); it was, and still is, a question of great debate and discussion. Often, when looking at the meaning of film the subject itself becomes introspective. From the glitzy, comic reflections of Singin’ in the Rain, to the topic of the viewer in Cinema Paradiso, or the surreal machinations of narrative and characterisation in Holy Motors – cinema continually draws attention to its own workings and effects.
Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is arguably one of the oddest films (not only in terms of its style, but in general) of late to instigate examination. Like most art-house films this is a film that will thrill some whilst alienate others. Its premise is never completely explained – nor seemingly concluded upon – leaving some fascinated long after watching it, or annoying others with its ambiguity.
Whilst it’s understandable to consider the latter, it is the former that is truer in Holy Motor’s evaluation. The presence is simple to explain, more difficult to assess – a man’s odyssey through Paris serving “appointments” in different guises, for a reason relatively unknown. It is a joy and challenge to watch; it cries for a studious analysis that would add to your wonderment.
Denis Lavant in the lead role is astonishing. He is predominantly named Mr. Oscar yet is a man of many names and faces. As he puts on his make-up and costumes he totally transforms himself. You can never completely know the character(s) he plays but Lavant never makes them too mysterious or too distant either – in every one he adds a nuance to the performance to generate audiences’ engagement. His acting abilities are wonderfully on show here, with none of the supporting cast getting the slightest bit close to stealing the show.
The 8 and a half (possible reference to Fellini’s 8½?) appointments he goes to are excellently enigmatic. Some scenes are aesthetically great (the motion-capture dance is one of the best scenes of film 2012) and some are curiously captivating (the crazed hobo and doppelganger hit-man being two brilliant bits). Not all are that interesting and the much-required second viewing may have you smiling at the anticipation of your favourite segment or sighing at the prospect of another.
Holy Motors is a wholly weird film laced with cinephilia. It will appeal to the cine-literate crowd and perhaps misunderstood by the average filmgoer. In whatever case, it still deserves a watch just to expand your appreciation of imagination and storytelling. Carax never gives you a straight answer to what it’s all about though it doesn’t really matter; you will never forget at least a third of the film for its sheer insanity.
****DVD Extras: Excellent hour-long interview with director Leos Carax. Deleted Scenes that should remain ignored as some ruin the allure of the final film. Basic trailer. ***
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth