(2012) Art House (Indomina) Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Geoffrey Carey, Elise Lhommeau, Jeanne Disson, Michel Piccoli, Leos Carax, Nastya Golubeva Carax, Reda Oumouzoune, Zlata, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Elise Caron. Directed by Leos Carax
Making sense can be overrated. Our world is a series of contradictions made by hypocrites and swallowed whole by most of us who merely want to live our lives without too much interference. Sometimes it feels like an eccentric French movie that we’re all taking part in.
Leos Carax can feel your pain, ladies and gentlemen. He knows exactly how you feel. Fortunately, as a director of eccentric French movies, he can do something about it.
We meet Monsieur Oscar (Lavant) on a movie screen (don’t ignore the preamble in which a sleeping man finds himself hearing sounds of a harbor while planes land at the airport outside his window, then proceeds to use a key growing out of his finger to open a door which leads into a movie theater – that’s director Carax himself, setting you up for the rest of the film) in which he appears to be
Monsieur Oscar climbs into the back of a limousine, driven by the taciturn Celine (Scob) into Paris to drive him from place to place for a series of appointments. He is given a file as he approaches each one. When he arrives at each destination and exits the limousine, he is not the same as he entered the limousine.
In one location he’s an old crone begging for change, mumbling about how sad her lot in life is. The next he’s a virtual reality ninja warrior whose shortcomings lead him into a reptilian sex session with…well, a kind of snake-like alien dragon thingy. Then he’s a nearly-mute chain-smoking sewer-dwelling troglodyte who kidnaps a supermodel (Mendes) from a famous Paris cemetery (where the headstones read “see my website”) and takes her to his subterranean lair where he changes her dress into a Muslim outfit after which he strips naked and lays with his head in her lap (and with a raging erection) while she sings him to sleep with a lullaby.
He’s a disapproving father with an unpopular teenage daughter who lies about her misery. Which gives him a full opportunity to show what assholes fathers can be. Then he meets an old lover (Minogue) for possibly the last time, in a bittersweet melancholy musical number – you read that right, a musical number. Not so much with dancing and production effects but more a solo act with a certain wistfulness. It’s actually quite moving.
He’s an assassin killing someone who looks suspiciously like himself. He’s an old man on his deathbed consoling his beloved niece and saying goodbye. And finally, he’s a family man with a highly unusual family.
We get the sense that he’s being filmed in all of these appointments – for whom? What for? The inside of his limousine is much bigger than the outside, a kind of low-tech TARDIS with a make-up table and costumes – tall enough to stand up in, although from the outside it wouldn’t appear so.
There are connections to other films here. Scob, who once starred in a horror film called Eyes Without a Face dons the mask she wore in that film near the end of this one. Lavant’s troglodyte character has also made a previous appearance – in the Carax-directed segment of the anthology film Tokyo! complete with the same Godzilla-like musical accompaniment. His appearance is far more brief here (and thankfully, no courtroom scene afterwards) but like all of the scenes is oddly touching in one way or another.
Da Queen had a hard time with this movie. She’s not really into movies that don’t have some kind of sense. To her and to others who find this a hard movie to get behind, the thing to remember here is that this is a film meant to be experienced rather than watched passively. You are meant to let the images and dialogue wash over you and let it take you wherever your mind wanders to.
I admit that I have to be in the right frame of mind for a film like this and I wasn’t completely there when I saw it at the Enzian. Not all the segments connected with me (the crone sequence for example was too brief and nothing really happened; the father/daughter sequence just rang false to me) but those that did connected deeply, either through the fascinating images or the places they took my mind/heart/both to.
Lavant gives a magnificent performance, his pliable face changing with each segment. Each mood that is engineered here is different from the one that preceded it, sometimes subtly. Overall there’s a kind of bittersweet vibe that is like a moment of nostalgia for a moment that has been lived once and will never be lived in again. There is enough whimsy to bring a smile to the face but not enough to get us to French surreality – this is no Cirque du Soleil.
This isn’t a movie that spoonfeeds things to its audience; you have to work for it and use your noggin and your heart. That might not be why you go to the movies – you might be looking to turn your mind and heart off for an hour or two and that’s okay. Holy Motors is a movie for people who like puzzles, who like a good challenge. It’s abstract art and what you bring into the theater is largely going to determine how you view Holy Motors. It’s not for everybody – but it might be for you.
REASONS TO GO: Sometimes funny, sometimes touching, always intriguing. Lavant gives a performance that is multi-faceted.
REASONS TO STAY: Can be disjointed and jarring. Doesn’t always make sense.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images, sexuality and brief graphic nudity, some violence and bad language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The supermodel part was written with Kate Moss in mind and offered to her; she seriously considered it but her impending wedding was more of a priority (imagine that) so she passed. The part went to Eva Mendes instead but the character is still called Kay M in honor of who it was written for.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/29/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 84/100. No doubt about it, the critics love it.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Forbidden Zone
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters