Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Film Review: Holy Motors

An old man, played by director Leos Carax, opens a door to a cinema using a key grown on his finger. A suited man, Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) leaves his family and enters a limousine, where he is told to get ready for his first appointment. He becomes an elderly beggar woman on the streets. He enters a motion capture studio and has weird, fetishised sex, which we see being animated into two dragons. Later in the film, he becomes such ‘characters’ as a dying uncle, a crazy, violent tramp who kidnaps supermodel Eva Mendes and a brooding father.

Halfway through the film, the action completely halts so that Oscar can wander through a church playing the accordion, which builds to one of the most bafflingly wonderful songs in all of cinema (and gives us the hilarious “Three, two, shit!”). Holy Motors is unrelenting in its strange, unexplainable scenes, and Carax has created a wonderful, abstract to rival (and possibly top) any of David Lynch’s best works.

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To recall any plot would be to miss the point of the film entirely; Holy Motors isn’t a conventional narrative, but a procession of scenes, each one vastly different from the last. The only thread of plot is the idea that Oscar is some form of actor, who drives from place to place for various appointments; along the way he meets other ‘actors’, perhaps suggesting the entire world is a stage, or that reality TV has completely taken other. Alternately, there could be no meaning, just mesmerising images. Whatever the philosophy behind Holy Motors, I honestly don’t care, or want to know. It’s such a spectacle of a film, unlike anything else out there, that I just want to soak in its images and enjoy what I’m being shown.

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There are numerous stand out sequences in Holy Motors, yet I feel to describe them in too much depth would be to spoil the fun and surprise. The scene with Merde the tramp, in which he eats flowers from graveyards before kidnapping an American supermodel (a cameo by huge star Eva Mendes), is jaw droppingly audacious and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It may go too far towards the end of the scene, but it is incredible. The aforementioned accordion scene is weirdly joyous; it has no meaning, and no reason to exist, yet appears to be my favourite scene of all. Another cameo from a superstar, Kylie Monogue, is another bizarre musical sequence, but, despite not knowing anything about these characters, it’s a curiously sad and emotional scene, not a characteristic the rest of the film particularly inhabits.

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Denis Lavant, in presumably one of the toughest roles ever, is truly sublime, and easily worthy of an Oscar (not that the Academy would acknowledge Holy Motors). He makes every single role unique, and so you could argue that Monsieur Oscar is a Russian Doll of a character; performances within performances. He carries Holy Motors through the particularly difficult scenes, and gives a majestic performance. The only thing that lets Holy Motors down is its last 15 minutes.

Nearly two hours is a long time for such an abstract piece, and it always had the danger of pushing things too far. Oscar’s return home was just too strange, even for Holy Motors, while the last shot is a flight of fantasy too far, and isn’t nearly as clever as it wants to be. Luckily, for the most part Holy Motors is a wonderfully out there film that could easily be labelled a drama, comedy or even horror. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why it is; I just know that Holy Motors is a real gem and features some of the most beautiful acting, direction and visuals you will see in 2012.

Grade: A-

By Harry Ford

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