Ashvegas movie review: Holy Motors


Where it’s at.
(Indomina Group)

Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:

If Federico Fellini, David Lynch, and Charlie Kaufmann had a baby, it might look something like Holy Motors.  Self-reflexive on a number of levels, Leos Carax’s film is the ultimate meta movie experience, much of which I’ll admit has yet to sink in.  Providing a wide array of commentary-laden entertainment over a host of familiar genres, it’s both intimate and cold, a celebration and deglamorization of acting and cinema at large.  There’s nothing else like it, a quality sure to enthrall as much as it will repel.  If there’s ever a film to enter with an open mind, it’s this one.

Oscar, ready for his close-up.
(One of many)
(Indomina Group)

What for us is one roller coaster day in the life of chameleonic actor Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) is merely another day at the office for him.  Driven around Paris in a limousine by his faithful driver Céline (Edith Scob), he jets from one “appointment” to the next, donning the appropriate make-up and traits for each new persona.  Wholly embodying his roles, Oscar goes from an old street beggar woman to a studio session of motion-capture action work to a hired killer to a judgmental father to a dying old man, and so on.

Matching Carax’s imagination with tireless commitment, Lavant’s eclectic performance runs the gamut of emotions, jumping genres and blurring reality to the point where anything is possible.  Part of a broader authorial statement, each appointment purposefully appeals to a particular side of the moviegoing population, be it the rush and repulsion of violence or the sadness of one’s deathbed.  In these brief vignettes, the laser-beam focus of each scenario and Lavant’s fearlessness provide consistent storytelling hooks, and combined form a truly special experience indeed.

magically delicious.
(Indomina Group)

With such a wide array of stories, the most memorable segments will vary depending on the viewer.  There’s a strong chance that Oscar’s turn as a kind of sewer-dwelling leprechaun who takes a fashion model (Eva Mendes) to his underground lair (and introduces her to Little Oscar in its, um, full potential), will…well…stand out.  Or perhaps it will be the gleeful musical entracte with Oscar leading an accordian-based ensemble in a rollicking version of R.L. Burnside’s “Let My Baby Ride.”  Or maybe Oscar’s final assignment of the day with two wildly unexpected costars.  Truly, there is no wrong answer.

Every film is now required to
have an accordion rock-band intermission.
(Indomina Group)

Between assignments, Oscar waxes cryptically on the shifting landscape of his profession with Céline, co-stars, and a shadowy industry representative.  In this exaggerated vision of the film biz, cameras are so small that they inconspicuously capture performances.  As a result of this increased access, audience demands have become so great that Oscar’s performances may never actually cease.

Even moments that feel real, despite their purposefully misleading genuineness, eventually devolve into fantasy.  Nowhere is this bubble-bursting greater than when a seemingly heartfelt reunion with a former acting acquaintance (Kylie Minogue) devolves into a sappy (but wonderful) musical number.  At that point, all bets are officially off, the last hope for reality gloriously done in by Carax’s innovative mind.

Not your Zemeckis’ motion-capture.
(Indomina Group)

Bookended by shots of a movie theater, onto whose balcony the director himself confusedly walks, Carax highlights our awareness of watching Holy Motors and of viewing films in general.  The audience upon which he gazes down is a stationary one, seemingly suspended in time while an unseen film flickers on the screen.  Precisely what ends this unflinching crowd serves, however, remains unclear.  Carax’s playful, layered approach points to a need for each viewer to examine his or her individual expectations, as well as the collective wishes of moviegoers as a whole, whose dollars drive the kind of films that make it onscreen.  Accompanying this larger thesis is the occasional bemoaning of obsoleteness, a likely commentary on modern cinema as an art form increasingly unrecognizable from its celluloid days.

Oscar and Minogue after the Bollywood number.
Just kidding. Sort of.
(Indomina Group)

Exactly what it all adds up to and its resonance depends on how deep down the rabbit hole you’re willing to go.  Carax, to his credit, is uninterested in explaining himself, and that’s OK.  The density of Holy Motors is clearly not intended to be absorbed in one take and it will be a pleasure to peel back the layers in future viewings.  If it all sounds like too much, it probably is.  If not, portion out two hours from your life to take in something unlikely to come along again.  You’ll be glad that you did.

Grade: A

Not Rated, though there’s language, sensuality, and the aforementioned grand appearance of Little Oscar.

Holy Motors is currently playing at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave.

For more film reviews, visit The Isolated Moviegoer.


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