Written by: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Édith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Michel Piccoli
Life can be viewed as a series of performances given by everyday people. Each situation calls for a different procedure and hence, performance, in order to get through our days. Something Holy Motors tries to posit but the execution in its inaccessibility makes it hard to enjoy the film as its narrative string does not hold much strength. It leaves more of an appreciation of the attempt more so than the final product received.
Leaving for work in his limousine, Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) goes to his very first assignment of many throughout the day with the first one having him pose as an old beggar. As he enters his car, he completely changes his wardrobe and makeup in order to appear in a different scene but with no camera or production around him.
Opening with an odd beginning but then quickly shifting to what appears to be a normal build-up to our time with Mr. Oscar, Holy Motors has the appearance of there being something off about the story. When Mr. Oscar first enters the vehicle, it gives off the vibe of him simply going to work. In his suit, he seemingly works in business but then enters a limousine, which typically is reserved for special events rather than an everyday commute. He speaks to his driver about the many appointments he has during the day and then we see his first transportation. His job comes into question and only after viewing the film from above along with some context provided through some conversation do you truly understand what’s actually occurring here.
In a sense, Mr. Oscar works as an actor jumping from scene to scene with seemingly no direction, no camera on set, or any production around him. This gets referenced when speaking to an individual and Mr. Oscar stated how he’s not used to the lack of cameras. It begs the question of whether or not each of these sequences could classify as a set and a different role he sets to take on. The makeup work on him certainly indicated he has quite the array of roles to take on such as Monsieur Merde and a killer. Fascinating to think about as a concept, but it gains my appreciation more than enjoyment, which does not bode well for it overall.
For as much as Holy Motors stands well-appreciated as an art project, working as a feature film just does not work. Each scene brings nothing narratively cohesive or binding to the story so we’re left to take each scene like an anthology. Mr. Oscar experiences different tales with him being the common denominator in all of them. Reality certainly bends in each of them as it becomes difficult to decipher what comes as part of the act and what actually impacts him as a person. In this sense, the film keeps you at arms-length on an emotional level because it becomes difficult to get through to this man as we never see the true version of him. It begs the question of whether the Mr. Oscar we saw in the beginning actually represents this person or yet another of his many performances.
This opinion certainly does not take away from what this film excels in, which comes from the acting by Denis Lavant and stunning cinematography by Caroline Champetier and Yves Cape. Levant needs to sell each of these roles and he certainly dazzled with the range he displays. With a wild spectrum of emotions and physical contortion at the ready, he does some marvelous work here. The same goes for the cinematography duo, who create some stunning shots and add some vibrancy to the sequences in presenting Lavant in his various roles. The motion-capture sequence alone, which stands out as my favorite of Lavant’s roles, just visually dazzled and enraptured the incredibly odd experience it seeks to portray.
Nearly reaching legendary status, Holy Motors certainly provides plenty of intrigue and I can certainly appreciate what it wants to depict, but in the end, I must say it’s simply not for me. On many occasions, I love me some weird art that appears to be aimless but this one just did not have enough to keep me pulled in. By the end of the feature, it leaves this cold feeling stemming from a lack of humanity in the film. Narrative cohesion matters, even if just a little, and this film has no interest in providing it.