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Holy Motors: What did I just See?
"Your punishment, my poor Angèle, is to be you. To have to live with yourself."
This quote from the lead character in Leos Carax' 2012 film, Holy Motors, is probably one of the most revealing lines of this film. As a matter of fact, it's probably as clear as it's going to get in this bizarre tale of blurred realities.
Holy Motors follows Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), a shadowy character whose job seems to be to become a wide array of characters and enact various unusual scenarios. He wakes up as a banker in a heavily guarded mansion, only to become a beggar-woman, then a flower-eating madman, a troubled father, or a killer, among many others. We are never clear who or what Mr. Oscar is, but he rarely seems to be "him", as if it was a punishment to be "him". He immerses into his characters with such dedication that there seems to be little to no trace of whoever the real Oscar was. His face is a blank canvas waiting to be painted on.
Oscar is accompanied in his journey by his trusty chauffeur and assistant, Céline (Edith Scob), who drives him from one "appointment" to the other, organizing his "jobs", and even worrying about his health. Céline is a stoic character who keeps her composure through most of the film, but who is visibly affected by what she sees in her boss. Her face seems to be one of the few honest expression of emotions on the film.
The film is clearly not for everyone. From the first scene, we are never sure of what is happening, or what is real and what's not. Impatient viewers might grow weary of all the bizarre twists and turns, while others might get tired of all the confusion around the plot. It is only as the film ends that some aspects of the plot might come to focus, and even then, most of it remains a mystery.
But regardless of how clear or not the film is, one can't deny that Carax has crafted a unique film. There seems to be a meticulous approach to each act, with each one of Oscar's "appointment" feeling like a continuous build-up; each one raising the stakes over the previous one. And just when you think you might have figured it out, Carax pulls the rug from under you. Holy Motors might be confusing, but it's never boring. Its visuals remain long after you've seen it, and the questions it leaves open, will probably continue to boggle your mind.
Another film strength is how emotionally charged it is. In a way, this reminded me of David Lynch's films like Mulholland Drive or Eraserhead, in that, even though we're not sure what's going on, we still find ourselves emotionally immersed in the film. Examples of this are the scene between Oscar and Angèle (Jeanne Dison) which I quoted in the opening, or his scene with Léa (or is it Élise?) at a hotel, or the final scenes with Eva/Jean (Kylie Minogue). In that regards, I have to say that I don't think there was a single bad performance in the film.
May 23, 2012
Denis Lavant, Édith Scob
But special praise has to be given to Denis Lavant. His performance is nothing short of spectacular, and should've been worthy of more praise from the media and critics. Just like Mr. Oscar, it is impressive the way Lavant immerses in each of the different personas. But more than the characters, it's the way he subtly brings emotion during his "limousine breaks". This is a character that's tired, but still trying to make the best out of what he's doing. Someone who is escaping, not complacent with being himself, but who also struggles to find happiness in what he used to love... "The beauty of the act".
It would be impossible to have a full understanding of what's going on in Holy Motors, just like it would be futile to weigh it like we do other films. Like the aforementioned Mulholland Drive, or even Fellini's 8½, as the plot progresses, some things become clearer, only to bring up more surreal, or even borderline absurd things. But like I said, the film is never boring. Overall, Holy Motors is a bizarre and confusingly unique film, with an undeniable craft in its directing and performances, and worthy of a watch if you're in the mood for something really, really different. And I mean, really... really different.
What was your initial reaction to Holy Motors?
Holy Motors Official Trailer
Over the course of a single day, Monsieur Oscar travels by limousine around Paris to a series of nine appointments, transforming into new characters at each stop. He is a captain of industry, a gypsy beggar, a digitized ninja warrior (and reptilian sex god!), a gibberish-spewing troglodyte, the melancholy father of a teenage daughter, a shadowy assassin, a dying old man, and a thwarted lover reuniting with a past flame.
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