This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Simon Ramshaw’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"Is that your hair?"
Hear that? That's the sound of a gear shifting, a vital piece of the jigsaw slotting into place, the click that adds a couple of full stars onto Holy Motors. To say that one has a theory on Leos Carax's one-man ensemble is a statement that could and should inspire the intervention of Karl Pilkington's superpowered alter-ego, but hey, I can deal with that. And to have a literal theory on top of that is practically heresy. But yeah, I can deal with that too.
It's all about employment.
Denis Lavant, showing himself to be the most versatile screen-performer who ever lived in just one film, is an actor. Of course he's an actor. It's his job. A service he must perform to cater to the buyer's needs. However odd, however perverse, however commercial, however emotional, he tackles it with aplomb in the moment. His relaxation periods are few and far between, and intensely unrewarding; his view of the outer world is often distorted and stretched to adapt to the night, in those precious few seconds he has had to work fast to claw back from his busy day.
Consider the actor a moment. From the times when a masked Greek would have to bellow to fill a packed amphitheatre, they've dedicated themselves to becoming other souls. Nowadays, it's different for the actor. They are under constant scrutiny, criticism, with the vultures waiting to strip the flesh from their skin if the slightest facial twitch falls flat. Lavant evades such inspection with a sheer variety of colourful performances that range from the absurd to the subtle; watch how he effortlessly shifts between crippled beggar woman to athletic mo-cap artist. In short, he works his arse off as an actor.
The same could be said for M. Oscar. In the few instances where we see the man behind his many masks, he often mumbles of his tiredness, of his weariness over the profession. He even comments on the lack of nature in his job, mourning the loss of forests as his stamping ground. Carax's voice bleeds through Oscar's at many points, screaming the frustrations and begging the pertinent questions:
"Acting has become stifled by spectacle, by perversity; it is no longer allowed to interact with the natural order of the world, and is crushed by the falsity of entertainment."
"Great artistic are fleeting and momentary, no longer immortalised by the power of a camera." (Oscar complains about how he "miss[es] the cameras", so it appears that his artistic merit is never captured on film)
"Do we truly appreciate the diversity of the actor? We request so much of the performer in the modern world that we forget who the person behind the character is. If beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and if there's no more beholder, no more effort to appreciate, then what's the point of the act of acting?"
In those respects, M. Oscar is effectively a slave to the system. His seeming imperviousness to death and even the silent footage of Lavant as a strongman suggests something along the lines of his once-Herculean power and his constancy within his role, but in today's world of factory-farmed cinema and workaholic actors, Carax presents us with a piercing issue: do we even appreciate the people who bring so much joy into our lives? They do crazy, horrible, immoral, kindly and wonderful things for us, to inspire a reaction, a catharsis in our own dull lives, yet we forget that their life could be just as mundane.
Carax and Lavant lay it all bare.
A vastly important and challenging masterwork.