Movie Review: “Holy Motors”- Absurdity Undefined

Written by David Greenberg February 03, 2013

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How does one find the words to attempt to explain Leos Carax’s new film, “Holy Motors” ?  Let me tell you, the French would be the first to say, “ce n’est pas facile.”  Yet again, before they tell you how hard it is to explain the film, they would be the first to tell you how fantastic it is and how the meaning of the film is unimportant when put up against its sublime beauty.  I would have to agree.

The Point is There is No Point

There has to be more, right?  Film has to mean something.  Film has to have a point, right?  Wrong!  And although it is a tough lesson for viewers who are used to watching the (mostly) amazing stories that have come out of Hollywood, it is true.  Film is not obliged to tell us anything.  Carax reminds the audience this in his bizarre tour-de-force that is “Holy Motors.”  Carax’s greatest lesson that he presents in his piece: film can be whatever you want it to be.  Carax obviously wants film to be beautiful.

Here’s a riddle for you: what does a gypsy beggar, a graphically designed nympho ninja, a kidnapping troll, a thuggish assassin, and a single father of a severely troubled daughter have in common?  Wait for it…they are all incarnations of one man, Monsieur Oscar, played by the amazingly dexterous Denis Lavant, as he travels throughout Paris on a single day in the not-so-distant future.  The film follows Monsieur Oscar as he attends a series of “appointments” transforming into a new character at each engagement.  Chauffeured throughout the city by his trusty driver, Celine (Edith Scob) who seems to find all of the day’s work completely normal, Monsieur Oscar is given a profile of his new manifestation at each stop where he seems to take on a completely new form.

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Transformers…Not Really

Perhaps the greatest joy of watching Holy Motors is the surprise to see what Monsieur Oscar will transform into next.  What is most unbelievable about the film is Lavant’s ability to completely become overtaken by the characters that he transforms into.  It is in Lavant’s strange yet fascinating face that we see him become one with his new identity.  The fact that he can juggle nine different identities in one 115 minute film is nothing short of remarkable.  Watching a troll who kidnaps a model, played by the gorgeous Eva Mendes, in a cemetery and take her into his underground lair where he designs her his own version of a birka, then turn into a tragic romantic trying to reconnect with an old girlfriend, you know you’re watching something pretty damn impressive!

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What’s Going on in Here?!

If you go to see art films for the joy of trying to figure out what is being presented between the lines then, by all means…DO NOT GO TO SEE THIS FILM.  Spoiler alert:  when I finally thought I had figured out what Carax was trying to say I became completely confused when he returned home to his family of apes!  I was further confused by the conversation that took place between the limousines at the Holy Motors garage.  Basically what I’m trying to say is you won’t get it.  You may think you got it, but trust me you didn’t.  This is not because you are a dumb individual or cannot appreciate an art film; it is because Carax seems to thwart any attempt at understanding the film’s narrative.

It is a beautiful film, it really is.  I must say, the musical interludes, one of which was performed by Kylie Minogue (oh yeah, she’s in the movie too), seemed slightly out of place.  However, thinking back, it was a nice break from the disturbingly gorgeous imagery of the film.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll leave the theater completely confused, as you will be when you read the last word of this review.  Giraffe.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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