Director: Leos Carax
Screenplay: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue
Producers: Martine Marignac, Albert Prévost, Maurice Tinchant
Running Time: 115 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
I feel like I’ve come a little late to the party on this as a number of people I know saw it at Cannes (I only went for the first few days) and when it got a cinema release late last year it became a major talking point amongst the world’s film bloggers. Living in the cinematically deprived city of Lincoln, I couldn’t get a chance to see it on cinema though, so I was very pleased to hear my friends over at Artificial Eye were releasing it on DVD and Blu-Ray and were willing to send me a screener.
Holy Motors hasn’t much of an obvious story as such, but follows Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant, in an extraordinary performance) over the course of a day as he travels via limousine to various ‘appointments’ around Paris. These appointments consist of Oscar becoming a different character in a different situation. There are nine appointments in total, bringing him from being an old gypsy woman, to the curiously disgusting Merde character (from director Leos Carax’s entry to the Tokyo! anthology) to the father of a family of monkeys (?!). Along the way he is accompanied by his chauffeur Céline (Eyes Without a Face’s Edith Scob) and also an old flame and fellow ‘actor’ Eva Grace (Kylie Minogue).
So as you can guess from the brief synopsis, this is a film about actors and performing. The film’s erratic and unusual nature mirrors the inherent surrealism of an actor’s life. In showing Oscar’s exhaustion through his work it also examines the toll such an emotionally and physically demanding job can have on an actor as well as how lonely the life can be. Scenes when Oscar interacts with fellow actors and his chauffeur out of character are tinged with sadness and despite the connection and suggestion that something happened between himself and Eva, it is suggested that the job ruined any chance of it blossoming to anything substantial. You also hear of Oscar’s disillusionment with the job over the years, expressing his dislike for the fact that the cameras have become so small he can’t even see them anymore.
There is an air of melancholia and bitterness towards the film industry to much of the film. A sequence where Oscar dons a motion capture suit to create some sort of twisted animated action porno is set in a huge industrial warehouse with faceless voices giving instructions without emotion or context. The symbolism is obvious of course, which brings me to my main gripe with the film. Watching it, I kind of felt like it wasn’t really saying quite enough to justify its running time and when it was making a point it was rather blunt. Looking at performance in such a way is interesting, but the core ideas of seeing acting as an unnatural and demanding career are clear within the first few minutes. As mentioned, it does explore other aspects and the ‘out of character’ scenes, which appear largely in the latter half, prevent the film from getting tedious, but I did get the feeling that it wasn’t as dense and deep as it may seem on the surface.
If it isn’t always as ‘clever’ as you might presume it to be, it still more than succeeds in engaging and exciting with its originality and sheer audacity. The film is like nothing else I’ve seen, a constantly shifting, playful exploration of the world of filmmaking and performing. With such a mish-mash of ideas, some sequences didn’t always do much for me and, as mentioned, it can drag its heals a bit due to it running over the same thematic ground. Some sequences are stunning though – the motion capture ‘appointment’ is a visual treat and I loved some of the smaller moments, such as when Oscar quietly excuses himself after his dying uncle character reaches his end, following a tender death-bed conversation with his grieving niece.
So it’s not a perfect film, there’s an air of ‘throw it against the wall and see if it sticks’ and its baffling nature means that moments will perplex or frustrate, but overall you have to give it a lot of credit for shunning the norm and having the balls to go for it. Plus, when it works it has the power to amaze.
Holy Motors is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Artificial Eye. I saw the Blu-Ray version and it looks great – the film is literally very dark and the high-definition format handles the muted scenes very effectively, without any notable noise or blocking. The sound is strong too.
In terms of special features you get an interview with Carax and some deleted scenes.