Directed by: Leos Carax.
Written by: Leos Carax.
Starring: Denis Lavant (M. Oscar / Le banquier / La mendiante / L'OS de Motion-Capture / M. Merde / Le père / L'accordéoniste / Le tueur / Le tué / Le mourant / L'homme au foyer), Edith Scob (Céline), Eva Mendes (Kay M), Kylie Minogue (Eva Grace (Jean)), Elise Lhomeau (Léa (Elise)), Jeanne Disson (Angèle), Michel Piccoli (L'homme à la tache de vin), Leos Carax (Le dormeur / Voix Limousine), Nastya Golubeva Carax (La petite fille), Reda Oumouzoune (L'acrobate Mo-Cap), Zlata (La cyber-femme), Geoffrey Carey (Le photographe / Voix Limousine), Annabelle Dexter-Jones (L'assistante photographe), Elise Caron (Corinne Yam).
What is one to make of Leos Carax’s Holy Motors? Does the film have any meaning whatsoever, or is it simply a series of surreal episodes that are not meant to add up to a coherent whole? There is a narrative through line to the film – but Carax makes no real attempt to try and explain what it all means. We see Carax himself at the start of the film, waking up, wandering around his small apartment, before opening a door with his finger – which has been replaced by a key, although one of the stranger looking keys I have ever seen. The door he unlocks reveals a movie theater – full of faceless people, staring motionless at a screen, with a very early silent film on it. Then we flash to Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), as he wanders done his long driveway, says goodbye to his children, and enters a limo, driven by Celine (Edith Scob). She informs him he has appointments all day. At this point, Oscar appears to be a banker of some sort, conducting business on his cell phone, but during the course of the day, his “appointments” will require him to be just about everything you can imagine – and this banker he appears to be, will make another appearance later in the film, but while Oscar is someone else. It won’t be the only time it appears like Oscar is more than one person at a time.
During the course of the film, Oscar will transform himself – in the backseat of his limo, which is cluttered with all sorts of stuff – into multiple different characters. He plays an old woman begging for change, a man working at first solo, and then with someone else, in a motion capture studio, a subterranean psycho named Merde who kidnaps a beautiful model (Eva Mendes), who essentially allows him to transform her into what he wants, a disappointed father driving his teenage daughter home from a party, an accordionist leading a musical parade, a murderer, the murderer’s victim, a man who runs into a woman from his past, and finally the husband and father of a very strange family. I suppose in between these episodes – when he’s in the limo with Celine – he is himself, but it’s certainly debatable if he even knows who that is any more.
Who is Mr. Oscar? It’s clear he’s some sort of actor, but whoever is hiring him for these appointments is never identified – I suppose in some cases, it could be the people he interacts with – all of whom know him, and he seems to know as well, although clearly, he is not the same person all the time – and there are those tricky situations where Oscar is two people at once, which always leads to one killing the other, or both killing the other, although Oscar always seems to be able to get up and walk away. Is Oscar acting for an audience? Are there cameras always just out of sight recording him? Who is Michael Piccoli supposed to be? He seems like some sort of boss of Oscar’s, and he isn’t exactly happy with him.
It’s probably better not to ask these questions, because the movie is not at all interested in answering them. Perhaps the whole movie is just an excuse for Carax to cram in as many different genres as he can into one movie – horror movie, crime drama, domestic drama, musical, thriller, comedy. Carax has not made a feature in more than a decade, so perhaps that is the only answer – Carax is making the movie to amuse himself. The movie is about movies – and acting – and about dreams, but beyond that, whatever you make of the movie, is up to you.
There are a few things that are clear however. The first is that no actor has been asked to do more for a film this year than Denis Lavant is asked to do with Holy Motors. He bounces around from scene to scene, from character to character, and does a magnificent job in every role he is thrown into, for however long he is thrown into it. It helps to that Levant is surrounded by great actors in most of his scenes – Scob, who finds nothing odd about everything that happens, Mendes, who was cast for her physical beauty, but allows herself to be used in an interesting way, Piccoli, so mysterious in his brief scene. Best of all, surprisingly enough, is singer Kylie Minogue who shows up as a long lost something (lover? wife? colleague?) of Oscar’s, and the two share a melancholy chat, before she launches into a beautiful, old style musical number/lament, that is perhaps the best moment of the entire film.
I’m not sure that this review will convince anyone reading it that they should go out and see Holy Motors – but they really should. Movies like this, which were once more common place, are now a rarity. Carax is a director whose name I have known for years, but whose films I had never seen (except for his short film as part of the Omnibus Tokyo, which features Lavant as the Merde character, and which surprisingly, I didn’t much care for). Holy Motors is perhaps the most singular film of the year. It may mean absolutely nothing – or it could profound – but whatever it is, I was drawn into its weirdness – and didn’t want it to end.