Thursday, January 03, 2013
Second Opinion: Holy Motors
Posted by Francis McKay
We first meet Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he leaves his home at the crack of dawn dressed in a business suit headed for the office. His wife and family send him off with well wishes and armed guards occupy the rooftops of his family compound as he walks down the driveway towards a white stretch limo. He is greeted by his female driver and settles into the back of the vehicle for the drive into the city. Monsieur Oscar discusses business deals and the need for an upgrade in weaponry for his guards during the drive. His driver (Edith Scob) then hands him a folder that prompts Monsieur Oscar to undergo a transformation in the back of the limo emerging as a beggar woman complete with cane and cup to panhandle for money in a busy downtown square.
After a period of time Mr. Oscar returns to the limo to prepare for his next appointment as a motion capture actor. These are the opening sequences of Leo Carax's Holy Motors, the director’s first feature in thirteen years following 1999's Pola X. Carax even gives himself a brief part in the film billed as “the sleeper”. He wakes up in a room with a wall featuring a forest mural. A screwdriver appears extending from one of his fingers that he uses to enter the balcony of a movie theatre above an audience full of sleeping patrons.
Carax has evidently built up a lot of material in the period between films. The plot of many of the film’s appointments could have stood alone as subjects of their own films. When interviewed Carax indicated that he came up with the concept for the film while wandering around Paris mulling over his problems obtaining financing for other projects. He noticed an abundance of limousines and always came across the same elderly female panhandler, those early elements were the seeds of the film.
Carax's regular muse, Denis Lavant is mesmerizing as the central character Monsieur Oscar. He switches from one character to the next in the back of the limo that resembles a theatre dressing room. Throughout the day he reviews the folders passed back by his driver Celine ahead of each appointment, completes his own elaborate makeup in a large movable dressing room mirror and his wardrobe department covers the back two thirds of the limo.
The film serves as a low tech take to Cloud Atlas on a multiple character feature. Lavant plays 11 different roles in the film including one where he plays both ends of a one on one deadly encounter. The film is rich in dialogue the day long banter between Monsieur Oscar and Celine serves as its backbone. Along with being his driver Celine plays confidant, motivator, assistant, shrink, and mechanic. There are hints that their relationship has gone, or may go, further throughout the film.
The music is thoughtfully chosen and adds to each scenario. It has a particularly telling impact in the scene where Lavant assumes the role of Merde, a sewer dwelling goblin that bursts through a cemetery and into the middle of a Paris fashion shoot harkens back to the silent era of monster films. There is also the wonderful Rock and Roll accordion sequence to R.L. Burnside's “Let my Baby Ride” in an old church billed as the films interlude.
Part way through the film, Oscar returns to the limo to find a mysterious older gentleman sitting in the far end of the vehicle. A discussion ensues about Oscar’s motivation and commitment to his role. Oscar responds by commenting on how in the beginning the cameras were large and evident, then smaller and hidden and now he is not sure if there are any cameras at all. Regardless he continues his tasks for the beauty of the act.
Holy Motors is why we go to the movies. It's captivating, breaks entirely new ground and is fresh take on movie making. Definitely a top 5 film of 2012!