Title: HOLY MOTORS
Director: Léos Carax
Screenwriter: Léos Carax
Cast: Denis Lavant, Èdith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Michel Piccoli, Jeanne Disson, Léos Carax
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 10/2/12
Opens: October 17, 2012
“Holy Motors” is destined to be the most bizarre movie most of us will see this year, an obvious choice for screening at the New York Film Festival which awards places to the most elite celluloid submitted to the judging panel. Here’s one guarantee: The public’s reaction will have three possibilities: they’ll love it, they’ll hate it, or their opinions will be somewhere between the two extremes. My own view is the last one, since as I deeply admire the artistry that went into the project—the photography, the make-up, the editing, the performances, the vivid imagination of the writer-director. However the picture does not cohere; it does not have a narrative. The crowd at the screening I attended were perplexed most by this factor, asking the obvious question, “What does it mean? What is the director’s point?” If the point is simply to pay homage to the movies of the past and to imagine what the cinema of the future will be, “Holy Motors” meets that objective. If the point is to glorify the beautiful city of Paris, it does that to. Perhaps director Carax wants us to believe that we human beings have little control over our actions, or that the Internet has given primacy to the virtual world over real, material objects and people. That too can be listed. Or if the director believes that the big machines such as stretch limos like those big, early IBM computers are out while small is in, yeah, maybe. Again, though, the film should be looked at not so much to wrinkle our brains in figuring out The Big Secret as to admire the craft and art that have gone into it.
Denis Lavant anchors the production as Oscar, a businessman with about a dozen appointments to fulfill on a single Parisian day. As he leaves his suburban home to his daughter’s wish “Work hard,” he seems determined to fulfill the girl’s expectations. As Céline (Èdith Scob), his loyal chauffer escorts him throughout in a white stretch limousine, he engages the world in a manner different from the way the typical business person conducts affairs. In fact his dealings are more bonkers than even Bernie Madoff’s.
He transforms himself suddenly and radically in protean ways that involve in large part a manipulation of the hair on his head, the donning of a bevy of freaky costumes, and in one case he distorts his right eye. First this obviously wealthy man becomes a stooped-over beggar, cloth in his head, shaking coins in a cup that nobody on the street bothers to fill. “Nobody wants me,” is his cri de coeur. Shaving decades from his life, he has simulated sex with an acrobatic woman dressed in red, one who is able yoga-like to bend back and reach the floor with her head. However this feat is abstract as though visualized on a computer, as Oscar is lit up like a Christmas tree. As he does somersaults, Caroline Champetier and Yves Cape train their cameras in such a way that we see this as full-scale animation. A marvel, pure dazzle.
Without giving away much more of the action, suffice it to say that he reenacts a scene that could be in a gangster movie, one that finds him a scary, one-eyed horror who kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes) in broad daylight and does strange things with her in the park (on that assignment he is aptly called Monsieur Merde), and another finds him perambulating about a cemetery with gravestones that urge readers to check out their websites.
This technically vivid film is the first complete feature in Mr. Carax’s résumé since “Pola X” (a writer begins an unusual relationship with a dark-haired woman who claims to be his sister), but was inspired by “Tokyo,” in which Carax was one of three directors. He is responsible for the part in which “Holy Motors” star Denis Lavant, who lives in a sewer, lurches from his crib in Tokyo assaulting pedestrians—grabbing their cigarettes and sandwiches. If Carax holds that the worst kind of movie is one that leaves the audience indifferent, he has realized his goal: nobody can simply nod off as though this is same ol’ same ol’, but instead many of us will leave our seats discussing the concepts and admiring the picture as pure cinema.
Unrated. 116 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – A
Overall – B