WowMIKEWow’s review published on Letterboxd:
Holy Motors has the distinction of being one of those highfalutin, uber-pretentious art films that people actually like, let alone have seen. That doesn't always happen, so the fact that this 2012 film in which a guy dresses up in several costumes, eats a bird and some hair, has virtual sex, and then maybe turns into a car at the end (unless the talking car was a separate character? It might've been in all fairness) has ANY cultural staying power is worth some merit. Because this thing is Art with a capital fucking A, make no mistake. True Cinema, if such a thing can be defined. To quote the great Martin Scorsese, "I would beat my dick to this."
Unfortunately, I personally have to chalk Holy Motors up as "Art I respect, and am glad exists" rather than "something I actually liked watching." This thing was so well made, and there were passages in there that were genuinely hypnotic, but the sum total of the experience left me cold, emotionally. I got the sense that everything was in the movie for a reason, that the director had a purpose behind what he was doing, random as some of it may have seemed. That's not the issue; the issue is I didn't feel any of it. One of the main character's earlier personas has him basically steal a woman into the sewers and start eating her hair, and my response to this was just a kind of passive, "Okay."
I have read a lot of the other reviews for this thing, and apparently it's all a lot deeper if you have some foreknowledge about this dude's life, his career, some of the personal tragedies he was dealing with going into production. Which is all well and good, but my feeling is a movie has to be able to stand on its own as a piece of cinema without outside influence in order to really work; otherwise, it kinda feels like cheating. Like, take Inland Empire, and the scene where Jeremy Irons is irritatedly yelling at the lighting technician. While it gains an extra level if you're already a David Lynch fan and you recognize his voice enough to go, "Oh, that's him!" it's still a funny scene in its own right.
And what's genuinely funny about the whole thing is, this thing doesn't feel all that pretentious while you're watching it. Holy Motors carries itself with a genuine degree of authenticity, to the point where it never ever comes across like this guy Leos Carax just being weird for the sake of it; for whatever bananas bullshit happens in this movie, he seems to come by it honestly. But a lot of this movie still felt like an inside joke I hadn't been given the codex for; it's inside baseball for a game I didn't know I'd come in late on.
So, yeah, I don't think the phrase "I respect it, but I don't love it" as ever been more readily applicable. Because this thing is a technical marvel; it's so well-made, and like I said there are sequences where the film achieves a genuinely hypnotic quality. To go back to David Lynch for a second, there's a scene in Mulholland Drive where Naomi Watts is at a rehearsal, and she's doing a scene with another actor, and suddenly that scene becomes the whole movie. Holy Motors is basically that, taken to the ultimate extreme, and if nothing else I'm very glad it exists in the world. But I just never fully got into it; partly, I think I was always aware that I was watching artifice. And not in a good way, where I could be like, “Ooh, that’s the point!” But in a way where I was like, “Liam Neeson’s Non-Stop is better at immersion than this.”