Title: Holy Motors
Director: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue
Where do I start? Holy Motors is quite difficult to summarize, since nothing of substance truly happens during its 115 minute run-time. Through the trailers, it appears to be even more illusive and surreal, something akin to a David Lynch production that is both gritty and straight of a mad genius’ subconscious. But no, it’s something else entirely: it’s cinema’s swan song. Not that cinema itself is dying, but a specific era in time. Like the limousine that’s used during the film, it’s a relic from a bygone era. This is director Leos Carax’s viewpoint from an old-fashioned cinematic perspective, where cinema is actually performed through physical interaction, rather than through CGI and other computer enhanced realities. His other works include the masterpiece The Lovers on the Bridge (1991) (perhaps his most well-known), Mauvais sang (1986) and Pola X (1999), which all carry a very raw, cinematic aesthetic that feel both aged and newly refreshing. Holy Motors is daring, entertaining and flawed.
In Motors, Denis Lavant plays a traveling actor of sorts, named Monsieur Osar who appears to have taken up the torch from traveling entertainers of old–such as minstrels, showman, puppeteers, so on and so forth. He does so by appointment only, and in everyday scenarios, surrounded by innocent bystanders. He is whatever his role requires him to be. All of his costumes and make-up are kept in his limousine, driven by a tight-lipped woman named Celine, played by Edith Scob. Much like stream-of- consciousness thinking, the opening itself uses dream logic, like Lynch. For example, one of Oscar’s many jobs includes a monster who lives in the sewers, who ruins in a photo shoot by abducting Kay M (Eva Mendes). Carax pays obvious tribute to the Beauty and the Beast story. This is but one transformation from Monsieur Lavant. Others include vastly different guises, such as an assassin, beggar and alien sex god (yes, seriously). Oscar is a traveling actor, who appears to be acting out various scenes from imagined movies that often play into classic cinema.
Believe me, if it sounds a little out there, it’s because it really is. There’s a lot to like about Holy Motors, but it’s also flawed. When you’re attempting to create something that has no plot structure, no character development (other than mystery) or any sense of a cemented reality, then it’s awfully difficult to keep the audience entertained and guessing. Otherwise, almost inevitably, viewers will zone out. This is a case of the viewer being forced into submitting to the narrative (or non-narrative) framework; it’ll either be an exciting experience, or one that you’ll find not-so-fun.That’s where Motors lies. You’re essentially given some information, then Carax continues to make you work for whatever it is he’s trying to say. This makes it sound like more work than fun, but that’s not necessarily true either. In fact, it’s a lot of fun, but what Monsieur Carax directed was something that doesn’t work all the way through. Emotional attachment is difficult because each “scene” stands alone. Furthermore, with no driving force, we are sort of stranded out in the middle of an unquestionably spotty narrative with nothing to hold onto.
Whether you’re a casual viewer or someone who frequents the cinema, this is one to cherish either way. For older cinema-goers, this will feel like a refreshing return to form for cinema; something that feels (as I said earlier) like a swan song of sorts. It’s deliriously fun and clever. If anything, you’ll find yourself entertained and laughing at the histrionics. I certainly caught myself laughing all throughout, because what I do now, despite all of the heavy symbolism, is that Carax has a sense of humor, one that can’t be left in the dust. Like the surrealism, the humor is just as important. It might be flawed, but it is a worthwhile endeavor for those willing to take the ride in Monsieur Lavant’s beaten up limousine.