Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Leos Carax
Stars: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Michel Piccoult.
What we have here is a man riding around town in his white stretch limousine. No, it is not Cosmopolis; rather Holy Motors is an even more impenetrable and incomprehensible piece of cinema that has divided audience and been the subject of mixed critical response since it premiered at Cannes. The Guardian described it as “barking mad,” which is probably an apt description of this bizarre film from eccentric French auteur Leos Carax (the drug-addled box office flop Lovers On The Bridge, etc).
This is Carax’s first film since 1999’s controversial Pola X, which was a loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s Pierre, or The Ambiguities, although he directed one of the segments in 2008’s Tokyo. But it shows the director has lost none of his visual flamboyance and command of cinema language.
In a role written especially for him, popular French actor Denis Lavant (a regular in Carax’s movies) plays the mysterious and enigmatic Oscar, who is driven to a series of “appointments” by his loyal chauffeur Celine (Edith Scob, from Eyes Without A Face, etc). Between meetings Oscar changes costumes in his luxuriously appointed limousine. Chameleon-like, Oscar variously plays a businessman, an assassin, a beggar, an actor in a motion capture video. In the most surreal encounter, he appears as a semi-naked goblin who kidnaps a model (a silent Eva Mendes) in the midst of a photography session and whisks her away through a graveyard to a grotto where he licks her armpits.
It is a bold performance from Lavant, who inhabits the multiple roles he plays here. And Kylie Minogue also puts in a brief appearance and sings a ballad. Even in interviews to promote the film at Cannes, Minogue candidly admitted that she didn’t have any idea what the film was about.
Carax eschews conventional narrative form for this surreal film that is both unpredictable and fragmented. What is important with Carax’s films are the visuals and the unconventional style, not the narrative or details of what it is all about. The film has been gorgeously shot by cinematographers Caroline Champetier and Yves Cape, who makes great use of locations around Paris to add to the atmosphere.
This is a film about ideas and the human condition – and it explores themes of artistic expression, music, cinema, sex, death performance, acting and the various disguises we put on during the day. Love it or hate it, there is no denying that this is an original, quirky, absurd, decidedly offbeat, and increasingly outlandish film, almost experimental in nature, that defies easy explanations. Holy Motors will confound and frustrate many seeking to find meaning in the drama, but it will also provoke plenty of discussion amongst cinephiles.