28 November 2012


Holy Motors is the kind of film you need to watch more than once. It's not because it's esoteric, and it's not because it's tough to understand, or inaccessible. It's because you'll really, really want to see it again, for all of its subtle lunacy. For the central performance, for the story, (such as it is) or simply for the truth that's woven into the very soul of the thing- they seldom make 'em like this any more.

All of this is my high-faluting, but honest way of saying that Holy Motors is pretty damn good. In a film with multiple interpretations, we follow Monsieur Oscar from his home, into a white stretch limousine, as he goes about his day of appointments. Using the wardrobe and make-up in the back of the car, he transforms himself into an elderly woman and, for his first appointment, begs for money on a crowded bridge. He changes his appearance and persona for each and every one of his subsequent appointments too, and over the course of the day, we're shown something of the effect that Oscar's unusual job has upon the world, and upon himself.

Here's a film with such depth of meaning, it almost feels as if that big fuck-off klaxon from QI will go off if I say it's a film about cinema. The plainest interpretation is that Oscar is an actor, and that his transformations inside the car are that of a method actor, getting into character as he's ferried between film sets. These characters range from the elderly beggar woman, to a dedicated family man, via such bizarre detours as a goblin called Mr. Shit, a character that director Leos Carax dreamt up for a previous short film. But then as the characters remark at one point, we never see any of the film crew in each location.

Does this open up the film as a critique of CCTV and the culture of alternating supervision and voyeurism, or is it a conceit that comes up in the mischievous final scene- that our culture has gotten bored of visible machinery, in the wake of technological advances? If Oscar is an actor, then his business seems almost mechanical, inhabiting different characters at the drop of a hat, (or a wig, or a prosthetic nose) and there's a sense that he, in some way, might be a part of that machinery that we no longer want to see. Or, to go even bigger, there's the distinct possibility that the title of the film, and the name of the firm that drives Oscar around, has spiritual implications for his line of work.

What you'll have gathered is that this is a tough film to describe in any kind of way that makes it sound commercially appealing. It's a deeply unusual film, but one which is surprisingly accessible and enjoyable in the watching. At its centre, you have several superb performances by Denis Lavant, as Oscar and his characters. He's reminiscent of actors from the silent era, equally as poignant in some roles, as he is repulsive when hobbling around as Mr. Shit. He really lends to the multiple meanings that can be drawn out of this thing, and his is nothing short of the best lead performance I've seen in a movie this year- perhaps in several years.

It's his role that makes me think that it really is all about acting. In the course of his consecutive performances, an idea emerges in which an actor might still carry the past experiences and traumas of characters they've played, as if reincarnated. This is most memorably brought to bear in a scene that features Kylie Minogue, from which we can only gather that her character and Oscar have worked together in the past, but is their chance meeting an appointment in itself? Considering that Oscar has nine appointments, and we see him make more stops than this, it's difficult to be sure of anything outside of his mobile dressing room being real, but tantalising when we see him in a comparatively mundane assignment, arguing with a young girl, apparently his daughter, as he drives her home. Is this real? And more importantly, what's real anymore?

This review will have put off as many people as it entices, but it remains to be said that Holy Motors is a film you can pore over for hours, and still be enraptured and entertained. While it's very obviously an art film, it's far more accessible than other, more esoteric works of that type, and although much of its narrative is left open to interpretation, it moves briskly and cleverly through its two hour running time. It's worth watching for any given minute of Denis Lavant's performance, which, in the context that Carax gives us, becomes something even greater than it appears. This is funny, unforgettable, immaculate filmmaking, which is all about the experience of watching it, but it's not going to win everyone over. Even if you remain as tentative as I was, going in, it can't fail to convince you of its utter uniqueness.

Holy Motors is now available from Curzon On Demand, and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 28th January 2013.
If you've seen
Holy Motors, why not share your comments below? Film of the year? We'll see...
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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