October 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm #71968
Edelstein on Holy Motors: A Film of Unfettered Imagination
To my shame, I misread the early work of onetime wunderkind and
festival darling Léos Carax as that of a poseur whose disregard for
storytelling suggested the most suffocating sort of cinephilia —
cine-solipsism. He might well be a solipsist, but he’s not a poseur.
This is how Carax expresses himself, and he does so without a wasted,
impersonal, non-passionate shot. His latest film, Holy Motors, is typically confounding but on every level that matters a work of unfettered — and liberating — imagination.
It’s also a showcase for the stupendous Denis Lavant, who plays
Monsieur Oscar, a man of one thousand faces who’s driven in a long
white limo (by the trim Edith Scob) from one job to the next (along the
way removing and applying makeup and appurtenances), assuming various
roles in assorted people’s lives. (His face, rather puttyish in repose,
seems less so under putty.) It’s sometimes unclear who has hired him or
what his ultimate function is — or, in a couple of cases, whether he has
succeeded or failed in his appointed task. Set in a vague, rather
depersonalized future, Holy Motors emerges as a cry for intimacy — as seen through the eyes of an artist who can only fleetingly fill the void.
Among Lavant and Monsieur Oscar’s impersonations: a sort of
deformed, feral dwarf who carries off a supermodel (Eva Mendes) and
dresses her in a burka; a ninja warrior on a Star Trek–holodeck–like
set, his acrobatic fight with a tall female athlete (Zlata)
subsequently transformed via CGI into the (much less interesting) attack
of a phallic dragon; a father picking up his awkward teenage daughter
(Nastya Golubeva Carax) and cruelly berating her for telling an innocent
lie; a superrich banker; a babbling crone; an old man on his deathbed
in a scene lifted (with acknowledgment) from The Portrait of a Lady.
He’s an assassin who brutally kills a look-alike: his twin? His
parallel-universe self? He’s the long-ago love of a woman — Kylie
Minogue! — who wanders around an abandoned department store (broken
mannequins abound) and warbles a plaintive song about a lost child. One
gives up connecting the dots — or ought to, since that way lies not
madness but an overabundance of sanity (the hobgoblin of literal minds).
At a New York Film Festival press conference, an anti-expansive
Carax (he radiated discomfort) said that he was forced owing to lack of
money to shoot on digital video — but that he hasn’t much cared about
celluloid cinematography since the death in 2003 of Jean-Yves Escoffier,
with whom he had his most intimate artistic relationship. I sympathize
with his loss, but in the long run it might be freeing for Carax to
think less about lighting and color and more about how his characters
inhabit the space and connect — or don’t — with each other. Have I
mentioned how amusing the movie is? There’s a wry streak in the older
Carax, terminally morbid but more than half in love with the crumbling
and transitory. In Holy Motors, he’s death-wishing on a star.
This review previously appeared in the Oct. 22 issue of New York.October 17, 2012 at 5:46 pm #71970
It will only open in Brazil a month from now, but I’m really excited for this film. It just seems to be so imaginative and absurd (in a good way). This will probably be a very unique experience anyway, and I’m really looking forward to it.October 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm #71971
I like this film a lot, but it is very divisive and my guess will get only limited and brief big city distribution in the US.October 17, 2012 at 8:22 pm #71972
^Well, yes, but this film will undoubtedly end up on a number of “Best of 2012” lists from the more adventurous critics. Unlike any number of films that get much more lip service around here.October 18, 2012 at 9:10 am #71973
This site is about the Oscars. That means by definition it is mostly about mediocre movies, which historically get more attention than truly worthy ones. It has been that way for eight decades, and although it has improved slightly in the last generation, it will mainly remain that way.October 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm #71974
Mediocre? You can’t possibly say that when these movies have been nominated/won top awards:
12 Angry Men, A Streetcar Named Desire, All About Eve, All The President’s Men, Amadeus, Apocalypse Now, Apollo 13, Bonnie and Clyde, Capote, Casablanca. Dr. Strangelove, Driving Miss Daisy, Elizabeth, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Frost/Nixon, Giant, Gone With the Wind, Good will Hunting, Hugo, Inception, It’s a Wonderful Life, Lawrence of Arabia, Michael Clayton, Moulin Rouge!, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Patton, Platoon, Pulp Fiction, Rain Man, Scent of a Woman, Schindler’s List, Sideways, Sunset Boulevard, The Aviator, The Godfather: Part 1, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Philadelphia Story, The Pianist, The Queen, The Shawshank Redemption, The Silence of the Lambs, The Social Network, The Thin Red Line, Tootsie, Up in the Air.
Now, I’m not saying al of these are masterpieces (which they are not). I’m not saying you should agree that every one of these movies is very good. But the Oscars are a mark of quality in the MAINSTREAM american industry (though sometimes they do award indies). Yes, often they go for horrible movies, but most of the time they will go for very good movies (ghasp!!). If you take a look at the BP nominees (and while you’re at it, go into the screenplay and director categories too) of the past 20 years you will find a LOT of great movies. Plus, the Oscars aren’t about the best of the year. They are about compilling a list of 5/10 titles of movies which a group of people thought were very good movies. They are often wrong. But they are often right as well. Don’t think of it as a “best of” list. Think of it simply as a “recommendations” list. A “what ANYONE who has a cult and functioning brain can watch and like/love” list from any given year. Root for the best by any means, but don’t expect a list like that…October 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm #71975
I’ve seen every BP nominee from the last 20 years, and I’d call 31 out of a possible 114 nominees “very good or better” (and this includes each LotR film). To me, it’s not great when a “very good” choice is made only 27% of the time.October 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm #71976
I was referring to the films discussed here as contenders in all categories more than just the actual BP nominees. However, I do think over the course of history there have been more mediocre or worse nominees than great ones, including some in the list. There are some great ones there as well.October 19, 2012 at 8:52 am #71977
If you do go see it, except absurdity and sillyness… and if you can stomach that, the uniqueness of the creation might be fun.
Imagine, a film with a chimp family, green elfin creatures aplenty, 24 talking limos, Eva Mendes who gets dressed in a burka while leading man undresses sporting impressive wood (impressive for its enthusiasm if not size)!
Sort of like an inverted ALPS, where play acting is the way of the world.May 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm #71978
The French film Holy Motors is an intriguing head-scratcher, which assembles two hours worth of scenes into what never really amounts to a story. In such cases I try to search the incongruous images for evidence of a prevailing theme, common bonds, or unifying elements. Maybe they’re there, but I didn’t find any. So while many of the individual scenes are interesting, funny, or exciting, the film as a whole left me unsatisfied.
I don’t know what it’s about, so I’ll describe what I see. Denis Lavant stars as Mr. Oscar, who is driven around Paris by a chauffeur, Celine (Edith Scob). Over the course of one day, he will dress in costumes, wigs, and makeup to assume various identities that are assigned to him by an unknown controlling entity. He calls these “appointments.” But what is the purpose of these appointments, who is assigning them, and how did Mr. Oscar come into this line of work? We’re never told.
None of the assignments has an apparent objective. I was somewhat reminded of the TV series Dollhouse, in which young men and women were imprinted with different identities to meet clearly specified needs, but who or what is being served by Mr. Oscar playing an elderly beggar, a disapproving father, a deranged man who kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes), or a murderous man with a vendetta against, it appears, another version of himself. Kylie Minogue plays a woman in the same line of work, who sings her feelings, apropos of nothing.
The very last shot of the film is so absurd that I was delighted by the sheer wacko surprise of it. What does it all mean? I’d say your guess is as good as mine, but I don’t have a guess. Just a shrug and a sigh.May 14, 2013 at 12:44 am #71979
That’s very peculiar movie. I don’t know if there’s any logic in the plot or was it supposed to be? I prefer Charlie Kaufman. It still had its moments (Kylie was surprisingly great) but other than that it was sometimes hard to sit through. I know die-hard fans of this movie but I’m certainly not one of them. Very divisive.May 14, 2013 at 10:55 am #71980
Just saw Daniel’s review. Holy Motors has a theme. It’s essentially an epitaph for films that also celebrates the medium. There’s even a scene where Levant discusses how things have changed, and the cameras have gotten smaller, and how he is tired, but he keeps doing it because of the beauty of the gesture. In fact, the genre bending format and the death element are in every scene of the film.May 14, 2013 at 8:06 pm #71981
That makes sense now that you mention it. I had the thought later on that maybe his “appointments” were sort of acting jobs, but the talk of the camera made me think of a kind of voyeurism or surveillance for some reason instead of cameras capturing an actor’s performance. You say that it’s an epitaph for films, but is the medium dead? Not that I can see, not commercially or creatively, though maybe something about film has died in the mind of Leos Carax. Why so glum about the state of the art form?
And now explain the thing with the cars.May 15, 2013 at 12:04 am #71982
Totally agree with Renato. It took me about 45 minutes to figure out what was going on (I’m not the sharpest tool at times), but once it hit, yipes! The whole thing fell into place. But I don’t really see it as an epitaph. To me, it was more like “Here’s where we’ve been,” while at the same time saying, “Here’s where we can go.” I came out exhilarated.
I still can’t explain the thing with the cars. But I loved it.May 15, 2013 at 1:20 am #71983
I still can’t explain the thing with the cars. But I loved it.
Holy Motors had awe-inspiring visuals, a powerhouse central performance and was a reflection on acting and the state of cinema today. The scene with Michel Piccolli must be paid attention to if you are to “get” this movie.
No one can explain the cars thing. It’s probably not meant to be explained. But it was absolutely hilarious. And I’m fine with that.