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Holy Motors is like a more out-there version of the films of Charlie Kaufman. You should expect surreal surprises, and my advice would be to not read too much about it before watching it, so you can just let the film happen to you, like an art experience. Don't expect this story of a man (a fully committed Denis Lavant) taking on 9 different personas in a day in Paris to make any neat logical sense, this is a film of dreams and ideas - music, madness, death, sex, despair and comedy. It seems to be about questions around acting - what does it mean to be an actor? aren't we all playing the part of our own lives? what does performing a role cost us? how does a performance manage to move us so intensely? I saw this at the Sydney Film Festival with a large audience, and it was interesting listening to people's laughter. Sometimes that was in response to a comic scene, but at other times it seemed more that a startling idea or image left some people not knowing how else to respond (eg a very odd short scene near the end, as Denis ends his workday, caused some people to laugh, while I found it terribly moving). The delight is in the individual scenes, though some of the scenarios have a real sadness to them: the motion capture scene, where human movement proves spellbinding in a way that CGI can never be; the sad tale of the daughter returning home after a party; the wonderfully crazed and uncomfortable Eva Mendes segment (make sure you check out the writing on the gravestones); and the surprisingly dramatic scene featuring pop icon Kylie Minogue (whose other film appearances were never anything like this). The tone and quality isn't consistent the whole way through, which can feel like a flaw, but it also keeps you on your toes. You might find parts of it pretentious or difficult to interpret, but the next moment you may be moved and not know why. It will definitely make most of the films you've watched recently seem very very dull.
Holy Motors must be the strangest, maddest and most bizarre film I've
seen since at least Love Exposure and possibly ever. In a statement
about the nature of both acting and the digitalisation of the world,
Leos Carax's film stars Denis Lavant as a man who travels through Paris
in a white limousine that is driven by Edith Scob. Along the way he
stops for various 'appointments' for which he adopts an entirely
different character complete with makeup, mannerisms and speech.
Throughout the course of the day he becomes a beggar woman, motion
capture artist, assassin, disappointed father plus many more.
The film's message or statement is open for interpretation and after telling my girlfriend what I though I asked her the same, to which she replied "I thought it was about weird stuff". The film is enjoyable however you view it and whether or not you read into any hidden messages or not. The themes that I personally believe the film is tackling may be totally different to the person next to me but it doesn't matter. Holy Motors is a thrilling, darkly comic and bonkers film that is worth tracking down.
Due to the film's premise, subject matter and country or origin, we got the chance to travel to our local Art House Cinema, Cornerhouse in Manchester. We saw the film in their small room which contains just 58 seats but when the lights went down the cinema was full. After an ominously bizarre opening we see Denis Lavant leave his seemingly loving family and mansion behind and head for a waiting limousine. If this were any other film you'd likely expect he was a businessman or some sort but it isn't long before his driver takes him to his first 'appointment'. Before this opening appointment the camera swoops around to show the remainder of the limousines' interior which instead of being filled with sofas, TVs and fridges is stocked with all manner of props, wigs and makeup cases. In no time Lavant is transformed into his first character, an old beggar woman of the sort you see around The Eiffel Tower. After several minutes of being ignored on the street he is back in the limo and off to his next appointment. The second and third appointments are for me the highlights of the film. One is an incredibly beautiful look at motion capture, shot in a darkened room with UV light and features incredible visuals, choreography and the most contorted woman I've ever seen. The third is the strangest and funniest vignette and sees Lavant dressed as a sort of tramp/Quasimodo figure and having interrupted a fashion shoot, steals the model before taking her to his underground lair. The film reaches a crescendo at this point which it is never really able to match. At the time I thought to myself "I'm looking at Eva Mendes dressed in a Burqa, singing a lullaby to a naked man with an obvious and exposed erection. Where can they go from here?" The answer is that they reel the film in slightly and take the audience to more emotional and heartfelt places.
Denis Lavant's performance in this film is simply incredible. I haven't seen a better acting job this year and I'd be surprised if I do. If the film wasn't so strange and commercially off-putting he would be a shoe-in for the major awards next February. Even so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see an Oscar nomination if the Academy is feeling brave. Lavant literally transforms himself about nine or ten times, playing totally different characters each time. It's not just the sheer number that is impressive though, it is the quality of the performances which really stands out. He is truly awe inspiring in this film.
The film's message and themes are as I've mentioned open to interpretation. Personally it felt to me like a satire on the nature of acting and how these days with the likes of camera phones and CCTV an actor can never switch off. We don't know who is watching so we are always performing. Equally it could be interpreted as stating that we show different sides of ourselves to different people. I know that I'm a totally different person with my girlfriend as I am with the people at work for instance. It seems likely that the film is trying to talk about a variety of issues and themes and perhaps other people will pick up on different aspects of the strange world that it creates. That and Lavant's performance are its two major strengths.
Some people will inevitably be put off by Holy Motors premise, style and quirkiness but if you stick with it and allow it to wash over you it's a brilliantly weird film that will be popping up on lots of Top 10 lists come December.
It's going to be difficult to keep this short.
One of the darlings of the 2012 festival circuit, Leos Carax's Holy Motors delivers a pure cinematic experience designed to confront and challenge our understanding of the art form at every level. At the risk of over-simplifying a film that is anything but simple, Holy Motors is a film about the cinema as it stands today, and the deft ways in which Carax explores various aspects of his subject, whether addressing film- makers themselves, we the audience, or even the debate over physical versus digital media, are so rich and dense that it is impossible to absorb it all after a single viewing. As such it is sure to alienate and infuriate perhaps the majority of viewers, yet those who find themselves swept up in the abstract beauty of it all are in for an inspiring, enlightening, and at times overwhelming two hours.
Holy Motors follows a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (a mind-boggling Denis Lavant), an actor whose roles seem to take place out in the real world rather than on the stage or screen. As Oscar is ferried from one assignment to the next by his faithful limousine driver Céline (Edith Scob), so too does writer-director Carax transport us to his next discussion point. Each surreal vignette is presented without much in the way of explanation, and Carax refuses to hold the hand of the audience, instead offering viewers the chance to piece the film together themselves. Similarly, Lavant's remarkable performance can turn without warning, shifting the entire film's tone from tragic to comical at a moment's notice, further disorienting the audience. While some of Oscar's 'roles' have illuminating punchlines to ease our understanding, the majority are much more conceptual, and will demand repeat viewings to unpack before Carax's intentions for the piece as a whole will become clear, if they ever will.
In a year where chatter surrounding huge tent-pole releases is choking social media and online communities, Holy Motors is the film that most deserves to be discussed, and debates about the film amongst cinéastes are likely already in full swing. While the audience who will really connect with the film is going to be comparatively small, nothing has offered this much to chew on for some time, and its value to those who appreciate it will only increase over time. Holy Motors cannot really be approached effectively in a brief review such as this, as it's not exactly an easy film to recommend or not given that each individual could potentially take something different from seeing it. But for those seeking a respite from the mindlessness of blockbuster season, seeing Holy Motors is a no-brainer. Carax almost forces the audience into an intellectual tug-of-war without ever feeling like he is talking down to us, rather that he wants us to reconsider the world of cinema, and not least of all our own place in it.
The criticism I'm hearing most about "Holy Motors" is that it's about
nothing. That it means nothing. That they - the unhappy viewer - needs
more from their movies than random events strewn together without
logic. As if the road to nowhere is not interesting in and of itself to
them. It makes me wonder, why don't we expect our concept of narrative
to be challenged more in the movies we consume? Why don't we put forth
as much effort in confronting art, as the artist has put forth in
"Holy Motors" is, to me, an act of filmic hypnosis. It made the cinema lover in me immediately and deeply happy from frame one (and not just because it references so much cinema of the past and critiques trends in the cinema of the present). I appreciate that film is not simply just another way of telling a story. Film is painting with light. It features human beings at play. It is design and photography and fashion and imagination. Of all the things cinema embraces... story is just a single element. So how did it become the MOST important element? Or, even more baffling to me, when did our idea of story itself become so tepid?
The story in "Holy Motors" is writ large. It scans like a modern myth. Like the oldest stories the human race tells. It features improbable and fantastical things happening along a journey. Its protagonist is a modern Ulysses trekking through the strange and fabled land of human experience, always searching for home. It is the only story ever told. And yet, again and again I hear people say that the movie has no narrative. No character they can connect to. No meaning.
Just because director Leos Carax is playful and tenuous with "meaning" doesn't mean it's not there. This is a film that is both about the drudgery and the exhilaration of creating for a living. It follows a day in the life of an artist. An artist always on the move. Sometimes that artist is tired, sometimes inspired, sometimes longing, sometimes exactly in the right place at the right time.
A friend I saw it with was bored. I still can't even understand how that's possible. Here's a movie in which anything can happen. In which any image can be juxtaposed with any other. In which the central architecture is not some obscuring three-act structure built out of a tired overplayed premise, but instead, is a careening litany of virtually every possible premise available. It readily teeters from overindulgent spectacle to tiny truth and back again as it explores, but never fusses over, the role of new technology in cinema, complications of identity, the strange job of acting for a living and so much more...
Most importantly though, the movie is about being on the job. The job of being human. Doing the work of being alive.
And we, the viewer, we work too. We work for meaning in the dark of the theater. We work to help fashion the story. To find the true character at the center of the experience. To understand where the human heart falls in all this flailing, anything-goes madness.
Life is work. Art is work. Observing is work. Isn't that beautiful?
"Cinema is a territory. It exists outside of movies. It's a place I live in. It's a way of seeing things, of experiencing life. But making films, that's supposed to be a profession." - Leos Carax
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read a few positive reviews and I was very determined to see the movie all the way, especially since someone mentioned that you have to be patient. Boy was I in for a surprise, but not a good one. It makes no sense. I was waiting till the end to get a logical explanation, none was given, the end was even more messed up. It reminds me of the "Medellin" movie of the series "Antourage" where nobody got the movie but the director. A french movie to be sold as art. Art like in those white colorless paintings, "It's an abstract art, not many get it" right... Excess use of men nudity, grotesque way of using it, a naked baby stalked by a pack of dogs, how insane one may be to consider that art. It has no point makes no sens. Dunno what Eva Mendez was thinking when she accepted the role in it. I like weird movies like Killer Joe, but this went full all the way one should never go I guess they didn't saw "Tropical Thunder". The only good thing in the movie is the accordion play, man that was good stuff. They should have made a music clip instead of the whole movie and maybe they could have a hit. 2 out of 10 for the song.
Keep thinking. That's all you got to do to enjoy this movie. If you're
unaware, it's predictable that you will not be able to keep up with
Carax. He sends us into a sinister, dark Paris which features the
typical sights, but nevertheless is eerily empty. It is a Paris from
the eyes of a blind man, who opens the doors to a cinema for us in a
Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) is not the kind of character who would be considered "stereotype". On the other hand, the roles Monsieur Oscar has to play are classically "stereotype":
1st: The Politician 2nd: The Beggar 3rd: The Motion Capture Artist 4th: The Lunatic 5th: The Killer 6th: The Killed 7th: The Vagabond 8th: The Killer 9th: The Killed 10th: The dying old Man 11th: The melodramatic Lover 12th: The Loser
Why does he play these characters? In a linear explanation, it is said that Monsieur Oscar is an actor. Sure - otherwise he would not die and resurrect again and again, otherwise there would be more tumult around him kidnapping a famous model. Cameras have become tiny over the years, they are not visible anymore. "Holy Motors" works as a film within a film, especially the idea that our lives work the same way (different roles, different people, loneliness, dissatisfaction) is intriguing.
However, there is more to "Holy Motors". The blind man in the cinema, who is played by Carax, for example (I know Carax always wears sunglasses. But remember the blind artist in "Les Amants du Pont Neuf". There's something to it). It is him who imagines all those splendid, heroic and visually unique characters. And is Leos Carax' vision a parable to mankind (we're helpless, we're driven, we're mad, we're vagabonds, we're lovers - we're actors)? Less radically said: All those different shades are within us. Then there's a comment to media: Where are the cameras? Everywhere. I think, the most important conversation takes place between M. Oscar and "his daughter" (?) and reveals another possible interpretation, maybe the overall message of "Holy Motors". The conversation: The daughter was ashamed of herself and did not dance at a party. Embarrassed of this, she did not tell her dad the truth. Consequently, he had to punish her. M. Oscar's punishment is that the girl must be herself and be happy with it, something he seemingly never could manage. Something we must not give up trying.
The film is a parade of pseudo-intellectual claptrap, a mere montage of
disjointed oddity; it has no direction, it just presents the viewer
with one weird, meaningless image after another. I derive no positive
emotion from a film that relies solely on ambiguous subtext, surrealism
I began to lose faith in the film by the 40 minute mark, each minute after that began to drag severely. There are scenes that are well acted and quite touching, but when they're thrown into this mess they're completely wasted. Some people have been flabbergasted by the suggestion that it's 'boring', I don't see what's so surprising about that, how can you be engaged by something that's so utterly meaningless?
Some people have praised its imagery, waffling on about how it 'celebrates the medium'. I agree it's striking and unconventional, but that's all it is; the best films achieve in both celebrating the medium of film and delivering strong, engaging narratives, whether they're simple or complex. Any idiot can throw together two hours of sheer meaningless oddity and claim it to be 'metaphorical' it's weak filmmaking.
Even fans of the film have no idea what's going on, however many of them seem to relish mustering up their own vague, self-aggrandising interpretations of it. Although there are those who genuinely enjoy such ambiguity and have an honest approach to analysing the film, there are many that don't.
These are people who are likely to fiercely defend the film; typically, they will patronisingly label the film's critics as ignoramuses who need their narratives to be 'spoon-fed' to them. I cringe to think about the scores of obnoxiously pseudo-intellectual people who will attempt to revel in the utter poppycock that 'Holy Motors' serves by the shovel load. I apologise for such strong language, but it irks me.
This is as bad as avant-garde cinema gets; it's nothing more than an indulgence by Leos Carax.
We follow a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar being driven around Paris
in a white stretch limo by Céline (his driver and secretary), who
ferries him around from one 'appointment' to another. To get full
enjoyment from this film stop there and watch it. Anything else you
read may spoil or confuse and may not be entirely accurate.
For those intrigued to know more... Each one of Oscar's appointments could be played as its own short film. We realise that the limo is full of masks, make-up and costumes for Oscar to change his appearance to fulfil his role at each appointment. Throughout the film he changes his character about ten times to be different people, these include an old beggar woman, a powerful business man, a dying millionaire, a murderer, a kidnapper, a CGI snake, an angry uncle and husband to a chimp family. The film doesn't explain what or why each of these appointments are carried out although the audience is given a few hints to form their own conclusions. However 'why' is really not the point here, accepting that he just does makes the experience much more enjoyable. It's simply amazing to watch our character step into a completely different role and make it convincing. The argument he has with his young niece (if it's actually his young niece) is sheer brilliance, but somewhat disturbing at the same time. The character is convincing but it's not clear what is real and what isn't. This is all down to Denis Lavant as our main character and Leos Carax for some superb direction. In addition we are treated to some short but touching set pieces by Eva Mendes and Kylie.
This is essentially an art-house film, but unlike unlike other such films this is full of comedy, some subtle and some proper laugh-out-loud moments. Meaning it never takes itself too seriously and never talks down to the audience. The audience is definitely a needed extension to this film, especially if you allow yourself to be drawn in and experience the journey.
This is certainly very Lynchian and recommended for any fans of his work. After leaving the cinema I was still very caught-up in the world that Carax had created. I had the same feeling after watching Inland Empire and to a certain extent Cosmopolis.
I tend to be a harsh critic, but I really can't think of anything I didn't like. Kylie dropped in a song which could have been cringe-worthy, but actually worked well. Even the talking limos were there as comedy value rather than to annoy. As for plot holes, not only would it be impossible to find one, but also rather pointless as this film goes beyond that conventional way of thinking.
This is art done well; more please!
"Holy Motors" begins with Monsieur Oscar (Denis Levant), a middle-aged
Parisian man, in the back of a functionally tricked-out limousine. His
assistant/driver hands him a folder, the first of today's jobs, and he
begins to transform himself into an old woman. Out on the street, Oscar
passes himself off as a poor, begging, old woman, conning the passers-
by. But is it really a con if he doesn't get any money?
That is just one of many questions that can go through one's head as you attempt to follow this film. And just one of the many unanswered questions that becomes increasingly frustrating the further you get through this film. "Holy Motors" has been described as a day in the life of a con-man. Too bad he's not a con-man. The second and third segments, involving Oscar in a luminescent, body movement/sexual performance and then infiltrating a model's photo-shoot as a crazy man, make it clear that Oscar is in fact a street performer/actor/hit-man. But apparently only those who like and "get" this film will see how he's an actor. That's the type of pretentiousness this film promotes.
Each segment is unrelated, connected only by Oscar transforming himself for his next job in the back of his limousine; which makes the majority of the film completely pointless. At one point, we are supposed to care for Oscar (who knows when that connection occurred) because one segment features Oscar with a similar street performer/actor, presumably a former love interest. In this segment they sing a song called "Who Were We When We Were Who We Were?" I think that type of verbose nonsense speaks for itself.
The make-up work actually was quite phenomenal; visually, Oscar was truly a different person in each segment. Story-wise, Oscar was a different person in each segment, which makes the film extremely non-cohesive. At the end, the film pretends that they presented ideas about the future of society, the isolated nature of individuals, and the life of an actor, but there wasn't a single coherent idea in that film. It was all very meaningless.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What is more important, a theme of the movie or how it is presented?
That's what I wondered after watching Leos Carax's latest picture "Holy
Motors". It's a movie without classical narrative but it seems to talk
of many things. In it we see a man named Oscar, driven through the
streets of Paris in a big limousine, assume many different roles as a
part of his job. He becomes an old woman, a motion-capture actor, a
dying man and a head of the family of monkeys amongst else, each of his
roles having another kind of story, conveying diverse emotions and
different messages. In between his roles Oscar changes clothes and
make-up, talks with his chauffeur, gets a visit from who seems to be
his employer, and has a chance meeting with his former love.
The movie opens with a shot of an audience in a theatre and thus from the beginning makes us aware that it speaks of cinema. One of the first things we conclude is that Oscar is some kind of an actor whose job is to play a couple of different roles every day with other actors like him, all of them being driven around in big limousines. That assumption is confirmed when his employee appears and Oscar complains that he can't get in the role as well as he used to since he can't see the cameras because of how small they became. Also, his name immediately brings to mind the most famous American movie award, and we can easily see him as a metaphor for the award for best actor, his performances as ones for which the award has been given, and a critique from his employee as a critique of the Oscars. But that's not all that points to American cinema. At the beginning of the movie the director himself gets to the movie theatre through the wall covered with painting of the woods which, together with the name of the movie, reminded me of Hollywood and could indicate that everything we see afterwards is an allegory of it. Of course, I could very well be wrong, but since Carax don't want to talk about the meaning of the movie, all we can do is find our own interpretation of it.
In addition to being parables for the award-winning performances, Oscar's roles are also representations of the various characters every one of us is composed of. When we first see Oscar, he's a wealthy banker arranging a dinner with some colleagues. Later in the movie Oscar sees that character having dinner at the restaurant and leaves the limousine to kill him, showing in that way the repulsion we feel towards some of the characters within us, or, if you want, some segments of our personality. The exploration of our personality is additionally revealed as a theme through one of the songs in the movie, sung by Oscar's colleague and long lost love Jean, with lyrics like: "Who were we, who were we, when we were, who we were, back then?". That segment also explores the possibility of love between fragmented people as we have become.
All of that we could say makes the theme of "Holy Motors", but what about how it is presented? It's a series of bizarre looking unconnected vignettes which create very little emotional impact. The acting is great, especially by Denis Lavant who plays Oscar and through him ten more roles, doing all of that impeccably, as well as Kylie Minogue whose performance probably amazed me so much because I had low expectations, but nevertheless makes one of the highlights of the movie. The cinematography by Caroline Champetier and interesting choice of music help keep the audience interested, but they're not without flaws. The main problem is the author himself. He publicly said that he didn't write screenplay because he doesn't know how to write. And that shows. The movie misses any kind of coherency and often feels unnecessary eccentric. I can't help thinking, maybe with a good screenplay the movie could be more than the sum of his parts, just like it should.
So to turn back to the question from the beginning. I still don't know what's more important, but it seems that having an interesting theme isn't enough, for it can very easily be turned into uninvolving mess. Just like in "Holy Motors", a movie which is better to talk about than to watch.
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