Directed by Leos Carax
Starring Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue
It’s been thirteen years since French director Leos Carax last put noses out of joint with the controversial Pola X. Now he returns to feature filmmaking with the puzzling, opaque, but utterly delightful Holy Motors.
It’s a difficult film to synopsise in a few words. Carax’s frequent collaborator, Denis Lavant, plays Monsieur Oscar, who travels around Paris in a gleaming white limousine, driven by Celine (Edith Scob). He has a number of “appointments” in his schedule, and in each one he assumes a different identity, completely transforming himself with makeup and costumes, for purposes which are never made clear. At one point, he is an insane homeless man, who disrupts a fashion shoot featuring a beautiful model (Eva Mendes), whom he abducts. At another, he is a dutiful father picking his teenage daughter up from a party. At still another, he’s a criminal settling a score. His employers are never revealed, but there seems to be something otherworldly going on – death and resurrection are part of the package.
So it’s an anthology film of sorts, with Lavant at the centre of a series of distinctive and deranged vignettes. What it means, though, is entirely up for grabs. Is it a commentary on the art of acting? A meditation on the different personae we all wear for various occasions and audiences? A metaphysical navel-gazer? All of the above? None?
At the least, it’s never less that utterly engrossing. Lavant is a monstrously talented performer, brave and committed in a way that is rarely seen on the big screen. His ability to completely immerse himself in such a wide variety of roles is truly impressive. For his part, Carax matches his mercurial star by changing his shooting style from vignette to vignette, giving what is essentially a kind of cinematic greats hits compilation. This is a film that celebrates film itself – it’s completely in love with the endless possibilities of cinema, and you get the sense that Carax was desperate to jam it full of the odd, startling, and beautiful moments that make film such a powerful medium.
Of course, that isn’t to say that Holy Motors is going to suit all tastes. Anyone with a deep-seated need for a conventional narrative is going to go unsatisfied, and those who can’t abide violence and nudity will be likewise dismayed – there’s plenty of both. Carax is a provocateur in the purest sense, and the shocking and perverse is just grist for his creative mill. But that just makes the whole thing more exciting – with all rules of narrative and good taste out the window, the feeling that anything could happen at any time is palpable.
Rarity is its own kind of beauty, and Carax’s authorial voice is rare indeed. We so seldom get a film that is truly different and genuinely unique. Anyone who has grown listless on a steady diet of sequels and remakes is strongly encouraged to check this one out; if nothing else, it’s a timely reminder that there’s still some originality in the world.
)Originally published in X-Press issue 1331 15/08/2012)