Fantastic Fest 2012
By Don Simpson | September 23, 2012
Director: Leos Carax
Writer: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Jeanne Disson, Michel Piccoli, Nastya Golubeva Carax, Reda Oumouzoune, Zlata, Geoffrey Carey, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Elise Caron, Corinne Yam, Julien Prévost, Ahcène Nini, Leos Carax
The man who we will refer to as Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) is a shape-shifting chameleon being shuttled around Paris in a sleek white limousine. At each stop, Oscar adopts a new disguise and persona, like an over-booked character actor tirelessly bouncing from set to set. Holy Motors might be a film about playing roles and fulfilling the fantasies of others, but there is so much more to it than that…
Even before we meet Oscar, the opening scene of Holy Motors puts everything in motion. A recently awoken man (Leos Carax) — or is he sleepwalking? — opens a secret door in his apartment only to enter a theater in which a mannequin-like audience watches King Vidor’s The Crowd. By casting himself in the singular role that delivers us into the surreal world of Holy Motors, Carax suggests the nonsensically dreamlike nature of the film that stands before us. We quickly surmise that the pure, unadulterated dream logic of Holy Motors is the only thing that will tie the experimental narrative together. This set-up also permits Carax the opportunity to remind us of our roles as voyeurs in this hyper-cinematic world. We are the mannequins in the audience, coldly observing the on screen events; we are rendered desensitized, emotionless.
It is not long before we cut to Oscar as he exits a house and enters his white limousine, chauffeured by his loyal aid, Celine (Edith Scob). Whether this is Oscar’s real life or just another play-acting gig, we will probably never know. For all we know, Oscar may be a character actor playing a character actor who is playing a series of characters. Regardless, Oscar performs a series of roles that showcase a kaleidoscope of cinematic genres including: science fiction, monster movie, gangster film, deathbed drama, and musical romance. Whether the menagerie of other people who interact with Oscar are on to the ruse we do not know — for all we know, they might be actors as well.
Holy Motors is not about understanding what is going on, it is about freeing yourself of inhibitions and preconceptions and allowing yourself to float in Carax’s sea of surrealism for two hours. Like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Holy Motors shuttles us through its narrative in a white limousine (Carax even permits us the opportunity to see where all of the while limousines go to rest), allowing us a tour of the decaying moral fiber of our post modern world. Holy Motors takes on the crazed environment of internet culture in which people will do anything to attract web traffic. There are a few hints that suggest that is precisely what Oscar might be doing — acting in a web serial. However, Oscar’s career choice (it is a choice?) is an exhausting and dangerous one, as his relentless timeline could very well be the death of him.