Holy Motors (Indomina Releasing, NR)

film holy-motors_75Upon the film’s premiere at Cannes earlier this year, half of the critics hailed it as a masterpiece and the other half hated it violently.

 

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We all know how much filmmakers like to make movies about making movies. I mean, people still aren’t over Argo (and won’t be anytime soon, I’m sure), and the most recent Best Picture Oscar winner was The Artist; that’s just to name two of the most recent, most obvious examples of movies about movies. And as many of them as you’ve seen, I can pretty much guarantee you haven’t seen one like the new Leos Carax film Holy Motors. Upon its premiere at Cannes earlier this year, half of the critics hailed it as a masterpiece and the other half hated it violently.

It’s a hard movie to pin down, and its being about making movies at all is debatable. What I can tell you is that the main character is played by Denis Lavant, a frequent collaborator of Carax’s. The film consists of him going to nine different “appointments,” where he plays a certain character(/role?) in each. The trick is that in only one of these nine appointments does anyone seem to be making a movie, and there’s no immediately apparent theme running through the nine characters he portrays. Besides, neither he nor his chauffer, Céline (Edith Scob), who drives him to each appointment, make any reference to the idea that he might be any type of actor or performer. Maybe Lavant’s character is actually each of these people, literally.

While I found the movie a little long and sometimes boring, it’s also hypnotic and fascinating; even its length and occasional boringness seem calculated. Meanwhile, the best parts are really great. The image on the poster comes from one of the most memorable sequences, where Lavant’s character goes and makes a sexually graphic motion-capture movie (yes, this is the one appointment that actually involves the making of a movie); this is Holy Motors at its most mesmerizing. Elsewhere Lavant returns to the character he played in Carax’s contribution to the 2008 portmanteau film Tokyo!, M. Merde, a sewer dweller who sometimes comes to the surface to eat flowers from people’s graves and terrorize the living. In the Merde section of Holy Motors, he kidnaps a fashion model (played by Eva Mendes, in the first of a handful of unexpected cameos that eventually culminate in Kylie Minogue turning up) and takes her back to his cave.

The two characters I picked as the best are really just the most extreme, which I can be a sucker for. Other appointments are more low-key, such as one where he is trying to be a good parent to his teenage daughter, or another where he’s a beggar. More excitingly, he also turns up to assassinate himself in one particularly baffling (and memorable) sequence.

Another telling thing about Holy Motors’ intentions: About as common as movies about making movies are scenes in movies where the characters are at the movies—there’s always a shot of the audience looking enthralled with what they’re seeing. At the start of Holy Motors, we’re treated to one of these shots of an audience watching a movie in a theater, but instead of looking enthralled they look asleep, or maybe even dead. They’re not moving, anyway. | Pete Timmermann

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