HOLY MOTORS (director/writer: Leos Carax; cinematographer: Caroline Champetier; editor: Nelly Quettier; music: Neil Hannon: cast: Denis Lavant (M. Oscar/Banker/Beggar Woman/Others), Edith Scob (Céline), Kylie Minogue (Eva Grace/Jean), Eva Mendes (Kay M.), Michel Piccoli (the Man With the Birthmark), Jeanne Disson (Angèle); Runtime: 115;MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Martine Marignac/Albert Prévost/Maurice Tinchant; Indomina Releasing; 2012-France/Germany-in French with English subtitles)
“It’s an absurd, unsafe, inexplicable and unpredictable fantasy… .”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
French auteur, enfant terrible and former movie critic Leos Carax’ (“Boy Meets Girl”/”Les Amants du Pont-Neuf“/”Pola X”) first movie in thirteen years is probably inspired by Melville’s “The Confidence-Man.” It’s an absurd, unsafe, inexplicable and unpredictable fantasy surreal cult arthouse film about whatever pops in the filmmaker’s head and includes such themes as role playing, facing death, living in a fantasy world and showing that movies have become part of our everyday life experiences. It covers a busy day, from dawn to dusk, in the life of chameleon actor Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) who resides in a guarded Paris housing complex with his family. Once leaving home the wealthy actor is driven by his loyal confidante, the aging blonde chauffeur named Céline (Edith Scob, appeared in the great horror film “Eyes Without a Face” in 1959), in a white stretch limo, that holds stage props, costumes, disguises and wigs in its trunk, as he goes to work on a series of scripted assignments in the city. The thespian dons I think as many as a dozen identities and disguises for his various appointments. They include him acting as a concerned father for troubled shy and insecure teenage girl (Jeanne Disson). While at work Oscar is acting as a big shot executive in industry concerned about his personal security, in an elaborate spandex uniform dancing with a mysterious lady in a red spandex uniform and while dancing they simulate sex, as a monster-like sewer dweller, as the assassin of a banker in an outdoor cafe, as a deranged beggar, as the sewer monster who comes up eating flowers from the underground to put in a trance and kidnap the fashion model (Eva Mendes) posing in a magazine photo-shoot in a crowded public park, and as a lover reunited to no avail with a former flame (Kylie Minogue, Aussie pop star). She will surprisingly burst into song in an abandoned department store building, surrounded by discarded mannequins, and sing the original song “Who were we, she asks?” Don’t ask what it means as everything remains enigmatic and some kind of private joke, as we can never even be sure if it could all be a dream or of falling down a magical rabbit hole like in Alice in Wonderland.
The pic starts off with the pajama wearing Carax waking up while sleeping with his dog and then opening a secret door in his apartment to enter a crowded movie theater of stiffly seated viewers watchingKing Vidor’s classic silent “The Crowd” (1927). If that wasn’t a weird enough scene, Oscar’s large dog in slo-mo walks down the aisle. I don’t particularly know what that means without guessing, but it makes about as much sense as the rest of the film. If you’re not laughing, scratching your head, taken with its sheer beauty or feeling relieved that this pic is not your usual bottom-line studio film, it’s probably because you most likely find it artistically pretentious or too much unlike the commercial conventional pics shown at the mall you are most familiar with. If that’s the case, I think you’ll be missing out on a rich cinematic experience by a filmmaker who is an artist–admittedly a difficult one to penetrate.
There’s a scene with Oscar’s boss (Michel Piccoli), who creates all his acting assignments, as if he were the head of a movie studio located in the other-world, whereby the birth-marked boss suggests the invisible cameras give one the illusion that you are not onstage when you are performing. The movie mogul boss urges Oscar to enjoy his work and don’t worry about cameras, but to just act natural. The boss also frets because his star actor looks so tired.
LikeCronenberg’s similar themed intellectual trippy movie “Cosmopolis,” it drifts off into a sci-fi tale of dead-like souls dying to be saved; that is, if they could learn how to love before it’s too late. Though death is around the corner for all the Carax characters, we’re told life is preferred, even though it’s where most suffering takes place, because there’s no chance for love when not alive.
Not an easy film to pick its brains for meanings, but who cares when it’s so ball-breaking and genuinely goofy in its laughable or imagined concerns that virtual reality has nearly overtaken so-called reality in the minds of the new generation–and Carax doesn’t think that’s a good thing.
REVIEWED ON 12/31/2012 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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