Holy Motors

PhotobucketIf I were to observe an open heart surgery as a series of procedures sans narration, I might at various moments throughout the process be repulsed, then fascinated. I’d have no idea what would come next and so I would be compelled to keep watching from a curiosity standpoint – spellbound by the procedure in its unfettered access. Then when it was all over and the body had been sewn back up, perhaps I’d remark that it was fascinating. But there would be no drama to engage my emotions. It certainly wouldn’t qualify as a movie with a plot. Just an array of maneuvers connected together by a common operation. Such is the experience of Holy Motors.

Holy Motors is one of those unconventional fantasies that Luis Buñuel or Federico Fellini or David Lynch might direct. Except those directors usually have *ahem* a discernable point. Basically this is a accumulation of sketches strung together that tells the story of Monsieur Oscar who travels to miscellaneous meetings in the back of his white stretch limo. Before exiting his vehicle, he dons assorted disguises for each one. There’s some exposition in the beginning that implies he’s an actor being watched by an audience. The cameras are invisible, an offhand remark informs us. For each assignment, he dons a different costume as these mini movies recall various genres: a melodrama, a gangster flick, a musical, etc. Holy Motors is a series of visual short cuts.

The most memorable of these vignettes is a rumination on the fairy tale, Beauty & the Beast. French director Leos Carax has only made 5 features (and a few shorts) since 1984. As an elaboration of his own segment from the cinematic triptych Tokyo! Lavant plays a monster named Monsieur Merde (even non-French speakers understand that word). He’s a red haired and bearded creature that recalls a satyr from Greek mythology. Here he kidnaps a beautiful model (Eva Mendez) on a fashion shoot, from Père Lachaise Cemetery and absconds with her deep within the catacombs of Paris. What happens next is sort of symptomatic of every tale. We’re captivated with what might take place, then led through each story simply to find it goes nowhere. Each narrative starts out with promise and then deteriorates into a non ending. This one is particularly sad as it is desperate to shock. It ends stirring feelings of embarrassment by the viewer for actress Eva Mendes. How did she get roped into this? I wanted to rescue her from the ugliness.

Much has been written on Holy Motors as this hard to classify, visionary art piece, but it really doesn’t seem all that innovative unless you consider stringing a collection of short films together a radical concept.  Holy Motors contains little that is pretty or joyful.  Leos Carax directs his frequent alter-ego, actor Denis Lavant. The 51-year old French star reluctantly journeys from appointment to appointment with nary a smile. He wears disguises with an unemotional professionalism not because he wants to, but because he has to. In a succession of vignettes, Monsieur Oscar assumes 11 characters including a beggar woman, an alien by way of a motion capture suit, a lecherous monster, a disappointed dad, an accordionist, an assassin, a dying man, and a former paramour in a perplexing bit in which pop star Kylie Minogue sings. Even her song is joyless. Lavant plays a mostly misanthropic bloke in each piece. He’s rather unlovable and kind of repulsive. Slowly over time we grow sorry for this individual. If we are to presume that Holy Motors is a movie about the making of movies, then I can only deduce director Leos Carax’s viewpoint is that they’re a drudgery to perform. While some have championed the images as a celebration of film. I see it more as a wake.

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43 Responses to “Holy Motors”

  1. Very nicely written reviews, the opening really made it clear to me that it’s probably better to just skip this one.

  2. This will likely be on my top 10 this year – review forthcoming – I found it immensely enjoyable and fascinating and thought provoking! 🙂

  3. All fair points now that I’ve read your review all the way through (comparing it to open heart surgery in the first paragraph turned me off of your entire viewpoint initially), but I still disagree. What you found repulsive I couldn’t wait to see again; what you found pointless I found profound; what you found unenjoyable I found gleefully … well that might be going too far

    • This movie turned me off. Each mini film was a bleak exercise that conveyed ugliness. The story seemed to be coming from someone who didn’t enjoy making movies at all. To make matters worse, he didn’t seem to have a clear-cut idea of how to resolve each individual film.

      I know how much you enjoy movies, so I’m curious what you thought was so profound.

  4. love the opening heart surgery line, I haven’t seen this yet but from what I’ve heard it’s a spot-on metaphor, lol

  5. Good review Mark. As you saw in my review, I liked the uniqueness and originality this flick had going for it, but never understood where the hell it was going with all of this randomness. It’s amusing to watch, but after awhile, it becomes a bit dull.

  6. Great review! Love the opening paragraph and you know I couldn’t agree more.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m so glad to find someone who’s agreeing with me. The only difference is that you put it so much better. ❤

  8. “Holy Motors is one of those unconventional fantasies that Luis Buñuel or Federico Fellini or David Lynch might direct. Except those directors usually have *ahem* a discernible point.”

    Damn it! I guess it’s rare to ever get something like An Andalusian Dog, 8 1/2, or Eraserhead in this day in age. Not that I’d expect much of Holy Motors anyway.

  9. You’ve peeled my interest, I’ve got to see this now. :p

  10. First of all, I want to say that you’re opening paragraph is Awesome! I did like the idea of this movie. However, I hated it. It was not for me. I did have interest each time a new character was revealed, but it just got worse and worse. Nothing positive, at all. 1 star (for the creative idea)

  11. Great review, Mark. Loved how you compared it to a heart surgery.

  12. Ooo, I was REALLY looking forward to seeing this, but you outline some glaring flaws (and ones that tick me off as far a experimental films are concerned). I’ll still see it with an open mind (albeit with a modified expectation).

    • Believe me. I had high expectations – mainly from a review I came across by Andrew O’Hehir over at Salon.com. Now when I read his review, I can’t believe he’s even talking about the same film. See it with an open mind and let me know what you think.

  13. I’m still interested in seeing this one, though it looks very strange to me, especially if it’s in a surrealistic style.

    I also nominated you the Blog of the Year.
    http://cinematicfilmblog.com/2012/12/12/the-blog-of-the-year-award/

  14. Great review, love the open heart surgery analogy! I still haven’t seen this one but it sounds like the kind of movie you either love or forget about, either way I think I really need to see it.

    • I think it’s one of those movies you have to see and decide for yourself. I won’t soon forget it even though I didn’t love it….or even like it for that matter. 😉

  15. Sounds like the kind of movie I’ll either love or hate. Sounds pretentious but interesting.

    This review made me laugh (in a good way) because you took no prisoner. i.e.:

    “…and a former paramour in a perplexing bit in which pop star Kylie Minogue sings. Even her song is joyless. Lavant plays a mostly misanthropic bloke in each piece. He’s rather unlovable and kind of repulsive. Slowly over time we grow sorry for this individual.”

  16. Fantastic review. man, so well written. You had me from the beginning. Yep, this is a skip for me.

  17. I was so close to seeing this thing. I will probably stay away now. Great review, Mark.

  18. It’s about film and filmmaking/performance, it’s about the performer as a human in existential crisis, and it’s one of my favorite experiences this year (although I would add that the trailer makes it seem much more fun and contains my all-time favorite critic’s quote: “It’s completely bonkers!”) 🙂

    • I’ve read reviews that make this seem like some vivid cinematic dream full of gorgeous images. Where is that movie? What I got was a languid depressing unfocused drag. There was no joy here for me.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it at least.

  19. Just saw this movie. My God, I don’t know that I’ve ever agreed more with you, than in this review! This movie is nonsense.

  20. Great review, Mark. I’m with Ruben on this one – I liked the idea, but the way in which it was presented was terrible. I would have liked to see a film that jumped between completely different characters with their own stories (not necessarily all in limos) which are then linked together in a surprising twist at the end. Instead, this feels like a vain project for Carax – max up the obscurity for the pompous film critics whilst confusing the rest of us who wouldn’t have minded at least just a little bit of narrative and a human story in amongst the randomness.

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