Monday, November 26, 2012

Holy Motors A Bizarre But Immensely Entertaining Ride

It has been almost a week since I watched Holy Motors and a day has not gone by without me reflecting on some aspect of the film. The film is one of those rare cinematic experiences where I was both dazzled and befuddled at the same time. Holy Motors is a film that is an enigma that cannot easily be solved in one viewing. In fact the film is not really designed to be figured out at all. Leos Carax deliberately crafts his film in such a way that it forces the viewer to focus more on the experience and themes rather than finding concrete answers.

The film starts off with a man (played by Carax himself) waking up in a room and inspecting a wall that looks like a forest. After a few moments he locates a hidden door which leads into a theater. As the man looks out into the theatre, the figure of another man scampers down the aisle followed by a dog walking in slow motion. It is at this point Carax's film falls down the rabbit hole as the main crux of the film beings to unfold. The film within a film finds Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) leaving a posh estate and walking towards a waiting limousine. After greeting his driver, Celine (Edith Scob), and making a brief phone call, Monsieur Oscar begins to prep for the nine “appointments” he will be required to fulfill over the course of the day. These appointments will have Monsieur Oscar embodying a series of unique personas.

Using his limo as his dressing room, Monsieur Oscar creates a specific character to suit each assignment. He starts off pretending to be an old woman begging on the street and moves to a motion capture performer and then on to a father trying to understand his teenage daughter. One minute he is a disgusting man who eats flowers off graves and kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes); the next he is playing an uncle on his deathbed. As the day progresses the various appointments begin to wear-down Oscar and questions begin to arise about whether or not he still loves the line of work he is in.

Of course this question is ultimately a bit of a red herring as Holy Motors, despite centring around an actor, has very little to do with acting itself. It is a surreal film that uses a series of vignettes to tackle themes about life, death, and the impact of technology on cinema. With every death that occurs in the film, new life beings in the guise of a new role for Monsieur Oscar to play. Yet, there is a sense that life is never truly appreciated until it is no longer there. This is one of the reasons why there is a moment where Oscar is commissioned to recreate the final moments between a dying uncle and his grieving niece. This longing to reconnect with the past is also captured brilliantly in one poignant scene when a former flame, Eva Grace (Kylie Minogue), sings the touching song “Who Were We”. The melancholy ballad questions such things as “who would we have become had we died differently back then?” while also looking back on turbulent relationships of the past by remarking “lovers turn into monsters and yearn to be far apart.”

This longing to understand and appreciate the past also transfers to the realm of cinema as well. Carax not only references his own previous work by bringing back the character Merde from his segment of the film Tokyo!, but also offers much commentary on the state of filmmaking. Whether it is Monsieur Oscar referencing the fact that the cameras are getting smaller or the tombstones in the Pere Lachaise cemetery that have no names but read “visit my website”, Carax is clearly dismayed with the current state of cinema. More specifically how machines are not only changing how we look at life, but films as well. Instead of creating challenging films that expands both the medium and the mind of the audience, technology seems to be turning cinema into something that only pleases the faceless masses.

Packed with far more cinematic references than any other film you will see this year, Holy Motors is a film that is destined to be dissected in film classes for years to come. This does not mean that the film will only appeal to film scholars though. Despite the overall bizarre nature of the vignettes, and the odd characters that inhabit Carax’s world, Holy Motors is a film that never bores. It is a film that frequently features funny moments and it is a treat to watch Denis Lavant effortlessly drift through the eleven characters he portrays in the film. It is a performance that will go down as one of the best of 2012, if not the decade.

Holy Motors is not a film that will please those who prefer their films to have a coherent plot. However, those of you who are open to a unique cinematic experience are in for a treat. Holy Motors may leave you scratching your head, but you will be more than happy that went on such a wildly entertaining ride.


  1. Right now, this is my favorite film of 2012. It's really unlike anything as well as being a tribute to the art of cinema. I just love how surreal it is and is not willing to define itself. That's what great art is.

    1. I was also taken with how little Carax cared about his film fitting a particular definition. Very few films this days are willing to be that daring.

  2. Great review. So far, this is my favorite movie of the year, but I can't really explain why. I just know I loved it.

    1. I know exactly how you feel. It is a film that offers an experience that is tough to put in words.


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