Holy Motors

Holy Motors ★★★★★

Holy Motors marks the first time I have had to watch a film twice before even attempting to put together my thoughts and opinions. This is also my introduction to the mind of Leos Carax, a French filmmaker who is widely considered one of his country's finest. Considering this is his return after a decade-long absence, I wanted to see some of his earlier works before watching this, but I wasn't able to. With that in mind, I am pretty sure I shouldn't be expecting anything like Holy Motors from his other films. Although, what that means is we are watching an experienced director try out and experiment with a completely new style, and create something truly unexplainable. Carax induces the film with so many complex ideas and visual qualities that give it a mysterious nature to it that makes its ambiguity become one of its strongest aspects.

The opening scene is inspired by a tale by E.T.A. Hoffman, which features a man waking up and finding a hidden door that leads to a crowded theatre where the audience is asleep and dog roams the aisles. What a perfect start to a experience that is similarly bizarre to no end. The plot is no different: we follow a man referred to as Mr. Oscar as he is escorted by a stretch-limo to his "appointments." In the back of the limo is an assortment of costumes and objects that help him during his appointment - each appointment involves him becoming a new person, being put in a unique scenario, and living their life. Now if you think the description is odd, the way Carax uses the concept is much, much stranger. The characters he embodies and scenarios he is put in range from a crippled old man begging for change, to a badly-scarred gangster on a murder assignment, and to a deathbed melodrama.

Denis Lavant plays Mr. Oscar, and the fact that Carax wrote the part specifically for him is a early indicator of just how amazing he is. An actor playing an actor. Playing nine different roles - some very brief, some extensive - in nine different situations - some dramatic, some simplistic. Yet each new person he becomes is connected in a faint, but evident way. Due to the brief time we have with them, they are layered in mystique which forces us to create our own vision of their situation. There are a number of subtle yet breathtaking moments where he embodies his characters to such extreme levels where he physically and mentally is unable to break character. A mix of immersing himself so deeply in the character and fusing himself so naturally into their lives. Edith Scob plays Celine, Mr. Oscar's limo driver. She is given the responsibility of escorting him to each new appointment and also protecting him from the mental drawbacks of his job's severity. Eva Mendes makes a brief, but very memorable appearance as a modeling beauty who is kidnapped by Mr. Oscar's beast. Kylie Minogue has perhaps the most haunting appearance in the one moment in the film where Mr. Oscar's breaks character and seems to become his true self, although isn't his true self merely another character? She plays one of his past lovers and performs her own original song "Who Were We" which perfectly ties into the theme of the beauty of the past and living with the regret of the future.

What the film is truly about has been subject to major discussions. The most common perception viewers have had, mainly film critics, is that it is about cinema itself. So, going into it, that's what I expected and it makes great sense. Ironically, I watched some interviews with Carax before seeing the film a second time, and in one of them he said he did not view it as being about cinema, but instead saw it as being an existential science fiction story told in the language of cinema. There is plenty of plausibility to that as well, but after watching it a second time, I was struck by how parts of it feel driven by realism and natural emotions, those parts are powered by the characters, while others are strikingly stylized, which are powered by the situations. A conclusion I've come to is that trying to limit the film to any set intentions or purposes is just diluting and endlessly satisfying experience. What makes it so great is that it seems to rebelliously push the boundaries of natural existentialism and purely dazzlingly cinematic flair.

There is something oddly intimidating about Holy Motors. It is a work of art that is in a world of its own and has a mind of its own, and that is something you rarely see. The concept isn't genius, but its execution is. There are many great filmmakers out there that could take the same basic ideas and do something amazing with it, but, at the same time, I don't think any other filmmaker could use it in a way that evokes thought and leaves you reeling like Carax does. What struck me is that every flaw I find probably only feels like a flaw because I am unable to understand its importance. It's a rarity when a film can leave you doubting whether what you think was wrong really was. The entire thing is just so surreal and mystifying that even those little moments that stick out feel like they have some connected importance. Holy Motors is experimental art at its most complex, yet Carax considered it to be a simple project that would enable him to get back into the world of international cinema. If this is a simple "remember me" project, then I can't wait to check out his more difficult ones.