From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man…
Holy Motors is a strange film. There, I’ve said it.
There really was no other way to start. I have considered this film for some time now and viewed it more than once as I was concerned that making a quick decision and writing my thoughts down early might lead me to miss something important, perhaps misjudge the film or misunderstand it. Having taken that time, and composed my thoughts I have decided on the following:
Holy Motors is a strange film. Let me try and explain.
The film opens with an audience sat unmoving in a theatre watching a production we cannot see and can only hear. The camera then watches a man waking from sleep in a dark, grey hotel room. As the man rises from the bed and moves about the room we hear sounds of seagulls and a harbour but when he passes the window the view is of an airport with an imminent, and very close by, plane landing. This use of sound not matching the image is the first tool the director uses to confuse and unsettle the audience, and certainly isn’t the last. When the man, who in the credits is named as The Sleeper, reaches a patterned wall the first really strange occurrence happens. A “key” is seen as an extension of his middle finger and fits a lock in the wall. He then pushes open a panel in the wall and walks through into the aforementioned theatre. As he looks at the screen the picture fades into that of a young girl in the window of a luxury home waving goodbye to her father as he seems to be leaving for work. The father is Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) who walks slowly down the driveway to his waiting white limousine driven by the loyal Celine (Edith Scob). After a few apparently mundane calls more is revealed about the contents of the car which include a range of boxes and props, and more importantly a lighted vanity mirror, similar to one which would be found in a backstage theatre dressing room. The audience is now introduced to the strange world of Monsieur Oscar.
From dawn to dusk he is driven around from one rendezvous to the next taking on the persona of nine different roles, from a disappointed parent to a underworld assassin. The strangest character the chameleonic Oscar portrays is Mr Merde, a goblin like creature who after kidnapping a famous model played by Eva Mendes proceeds to carry her into the sewers and treat her like some modern day Madonna.
Each short plays out in it’s own independent setting and every scenario is completely unconnected to another with Oscar actually dying three times. Every one is equally strange and at times almost ludicrous, and it appears that there is almost a parallel reality for each section with Oscar as the only constant. The only time when there is a break in the journey is when he encounters Eve (Kylie Minogue) who appears to be a former love. While nothing becomes a great deal clearer from this meeting it does allow the audience to draw breath.
The writer and director Leos Carax has created a film that is singular in it’s surrealism. Every person who watches Holy Motors will take something different from it, or maybe nothing at all. There are moments of intense imagery and striking symbolism but there also times of indulgence and vulgarity, as if the director is reaching as far as possible into his imagination almost to breaking point. The performances of the whole cast are excellent with Denis Lavant delivering what I can only believe is a career defining performance. It is almost as if the film is saying something about film itself at times but what that actual message is remains lost. I believe that even after several viewings you could be no nearer to really understanding the meanings in the film.
Personally I think Holy Motors should be enjoyed for what it is. It is a strange and wonderful journey around Paris in the company of a curious and yet likeable individual portraying a range of surreal characters. As the viewer you may take some profound message from the film or you may think it is full of the nonsensical indulgences of a madman, but either way it will stay with you for some time with images that will not be easily be forgotten.
Holy Motors (2012)