In his first feature film since 1999’s Pola X, director Leos Corax returns with Holy Motors, a tale that emphasizes the concepts of cinema, performance, immortality, and life itself. The only way I can begin to describe watching Holy Motors is by reminding you of that feeling standing in an art museum and trying to interpret a strange piece of art. This particular piece, no matter how it’s crafted, will make you think of the many possibilities of its meaning. For some time, you will try to collect all of your interpretations but in the end, you’re still left without a clue. The film, which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews, is a hypnotic artistic experience that has moments that are mixed of the profound and the bizarre.
As the film begins, we are introduced to Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) kissing his family goodbye and entering the back of a white limousine driven by his assistant Celine (Edith Scob). It’s quickly discovered that Monsieur Oscar isn’t what he appears to be. He’s a mysterious actor who preps himself in the back of the limousine for his next “appointment”, or his next starring role. He inhabits these characters and experiences a life that’s far from his own. He portrays a businessman, animalistic mad man, motion-capture performer (suit and all), a disgruntled father, a family man, a hit man, and a gravely ill man. Each of these appointments has no direct relation other than the fact that Monsieur Oscar is putting these performances for an unseen audience while learning the meaning of life.
A great deal of time is focused on Monsieur Oscar in a particular role that we never get a sense of who he really is or what his personal life is like. Throughout the film, many questions are raised about him but by the film’s end, we are left with no answers. Perhaps this man doesn’t have a family or a life outside of his “appointments”. It could be interpreted that because he lives his life inhabiting different life roles, he has become alienated in the real world. French actor Denis Lavant is astonishing in this film. Even if you find yourself not enjoying the experimental theatrics of Holy Motors, it’s still a revelation to witness this actor portray a total of 11 different characters during the course of a single film. Each of these characters has their own distinct quality to them. Lavant truly gives a unique performance for each character he portrays. Each appointment or scene he’s in really exemplifies his skill as an actor because each appointment is best described as it’s own short film and Lavant is the star of each.
There’s no denying that Holy Motors is a visually appealing film. There’s a great sense of artistry that makes me believe that director Leos Corax knows what he is doing when it comes to the vision of this film. The cinematography was the most impactful quality, especially during the opening scene and a later scene involving motion capture. However, there’s not a great sense that Corax knew how to handle the narrative. Perhaps I’m too bitter to understand that Holy Motors doesn’t really need a cohesive narrative to be enjoyed because of the fact that the film is more of an experience rather than anything else. But it should be noted that the film would’ve been more impactful if the narrative would’ve been a bit more comprehensible. At times, there would be this feeling of being lost. I’d like to think of myself as cinema-literate but there were times when Holy Motors is a bit of a mess. It could be described as a mix of different genres (including elements of a musical, due to a small part by Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue). Although the film isn’t perfectly crafted on the narrative level, the bizarre experimental quality kept me as engaged as a cohesive narrative would have. Where else would you see a film with an animalistic mad man biting the fingers off a young woman and kidnap a model (Eva Mendes), talking limousines, or two individuals in motion capture suits being intimate with one another? Just think, those are just some of the bizarre things that occur in the film.
If paying close attention, you will be able to catch subtle and not-so-subtle references to classic films. I won’t spoil everything, but there’s a scene near the end of the film where Monsieur Oscar’s assistant Celine puts on a mask reminiscent of 1960’s Eyes Without a Face, which is interesting due to the fact that Edith Scob portrayed Christiane in the horror classic. Because of these references, there is something for the sharp cinephile to enjoy.
If you’re looking to experience something you’ve never experienced before, then Holy Motors is the safest bet. Although I didn’t care for it as much as I wanted to, It’s something I’ve never seen before in the theater. Going back to my early example, the film is really like staring at a strange piece of art. There could be many interpretations of the film and while it didn’t connect in the way it should’ve, there’s no denying that it’s a piece of art that should be dissected. Who knows, maybe once it’s dissected, I may discover something that’s beautiful or profound.
Holy Motors – 6/10