Monday, April 1, 2013
2012's HOLY MOTORS is without question one of the most unusual movies I've ever seen. It's one that I admired more than enjoyed, though there were stretches where I was wildly entertained. In many ways, the film seemed designed specifically for my sometimes peculiar sense of what is "quality". A movie that is ultimately about movies, audaciously staged and acted. It is not recommended for the literally minded or plot hungry filmgoer. I can tell you right now, you will be bored and perhaps even pissed off within minutes of trying to watch it. You know who you are. Trust me on this.
So what to make of a film that opens with a man wandering from his bedroom through a secret passage into a movie theater showing THE CROWD, King Vidor's classic? Who is this man? The remainder of the film is spent with Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he is driven around Paris by his loyal chauffeur Céline (Édith Scob). There will be many stops on this busy day. Before each, Oscar reviews a missive and changes into a variety of outfits, wigs, and make-up. Sometimes he sighs before the next act. He will transform at different times into a bag lady, an elderly man on his deathbed, and a psychotic street urchin who kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes) during her photo shoot. He does this after biting off another young woman's fingers.
Oscar is obviously an actor, but what of his mission? Director Leos Carax teases with every image, making large statements of Art Imitating Life and vice versa. Oscar is seen, before his workday begins, leaving his house and saying goodbye to his children. At the end of the day, he retires to a different house with another family...of chimpanzees. In between? Some scenes make it clear that we're watching a thesis on film appreciation - Oscar dons a CGI suit on a soundstage, and later a man (director?) shows up in the limo and criticizes Oscar's work - while others seem more steeped in realism, as when Oscar reprimands a young girl who calls him "Dad".
Carax disorients us further the deeper we get into HOLY MOTORS. By the time Oscar shoots dead a Chinese gangster that looks just like him, then finds himself in a pool of blood on the floor next to him, we have abandoned any sense of normalcy. Don't forget the accordion interlude or the poignant tune sung by Oscar's fellow pretender, Eva (Kylie Minogue).
The more you know about films and their history, the more likely you will appreciate HOLY MOTORS. It is quite difficult to describe it, and words won't illuminate it in any effective way. If you're adventurous in your film viewing, not easily offended, and harbor a taste for the truly bizarre, this is a ride worth taking. It breathes life into an increasingly anemic medium, where most movies are merely filmed deals, investments, or another tiresome franchise entry or reboot. HOLY MOTORS is a heavy meta exercise that will truly weed out the hackers and poseurs. Though it may also bring out the insufferably pretentious among cineastes who love to fill the air (and cyberspace) with their theories. God bless 'em.
Oh, what of the film's title? The last scene will explain. A scene that is as absurd as anything I've seen recently. But it will keep your mind racing....