Dir: Leos Carax
Stars: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts”
It seems a particularly apt to open with a quote from As you Like It in a review of Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. The visionary French director’s new film is a tough one to pin down; spilling over with themes, symbolism and metaphors. These include identity, the science of acting, spirituality, free-will and the emergence of new technologies. Holy Motors opens in a dream where an anonymous audience is waiting for a film to begin; Mr Oscar (Lavant) walks out onto a rear balcony and looks out on people below…
Mr Oscar spends his days being driven round Paris in a stretched limousine to his various appointments by Céline (Scob). Each assignment involves him playing a specified role from captain of industry to a beggar woman; a gangster to a suburban father. He is on a tight schedule, and his transportation also acts as a dressing room and trailer. As the day progresses, Mr Oscar slowly begins tire, and things begin to unravel; both physically and emotionally.
Holy Motors is a profound, intense and bewildering experience. Each role Mr Oscar takes appears to be a study in identity and perception. We have the beggar woman wanting to be seen, but who everyone ignores; as though she wasn’t there. The marvellous “interlude”, where he leads a band through a deserted cathedral, making lots of noise, but the only witnesses being the ancient stone walls of the edifice. One of his best sections stars the grotesque Monsieur Merde (everyone frantically trying to avoid him apart from the blind man he assaults) who cavorts through a graveyard reaping havoc and chaos, until he is transfixed by the beautiful model Kay M (Mendes). He then becomes the focus of the shoot (the photographer desperate to capture something unique) before carrying the beauty off to his lair. In Carax’s bizarre take on “beauty and the beast” Monsieur Merde covers her up whilst he exposes himself.
Only when he meets a “co-worker” Eva Grace (Minogue) does his façade begin to crumble. Mr Oscar is weary, and in a wonderful scene in a deserted department store, she sings a lament to their lives and what could have been. As he leaves the building, she gets “into” her next role, his nerves shatter as he sees her dead body on the pavement; the barrier between reality and fiction begins to shatter.
When his boss asks him what makes him carry on, Oscar responds: “What made me start: for the beauty of the act.” Holy Motors is also a meditation on the changing face of acting. It’s a great re/progression from the “traditional” scene with Eva Grace to the motion capture virtual reality reptilian sex scene. The film is not only a lament to what Carax sees as the golden days of cinema, but also the loss of the organic process. He also takes a swipe at a cynical technological future: A prime example being the gravestones which link mourners to web profiles.
With so much going on, it would be easy to overlook Lavant’s incredible performance (which again I would think is intentional-a swipe at an industry which sees the future in CGI and 3D). If this man doesn’t win the Best Actor Oscar (haha) then it will be an absolute travesty. The sheer energy, intensity and believability of every character he plays is utterly mind-blowing. Reality blurs beautifully around him.
Just when you think you have the film sussed, the last scene with the talking “holy motors” reminds you of the spiritual aspect flowing though the film. You begin to wonder if Mr Oscar is merely an actor or is he an angel acting for a higher purpose. The fact that the white limousines appear to almost be invisible, allied with the “actors” seemingly being unable to die, makes you wonder.
Holy Motors is a must-see piece of cinema; it is as ragged, chaotic and non-linear as this review, however it contains great genius and profound thought. Just writing this makes me long to see it again.
For screening details visit: http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/holymotors