Holy Motors must be the strangest, maddest and most bizarre film I’ve seen since at least Love Exposure and possibly ever. In a statement about the nature of both acting and the digitalisation of the world, Leos Carax’s film stars Denis Lavant as a man who travels through Paris in a white limousine that is driven by Edith Scob. Along the way he stops for various ‘appointments’ for which he adopts an entirely different character complete with makeup, mannerisms and speech. Throughout the course of the day he becomes a beggar woman, motion capture artist, assassin, disappointed father plus many more.
The film’s message or statement is open for interpretation and after telling my girlfriend what I though I asked her the same, to which she replied “I thought it was about weird stuff”. The film is enjoyable however you view it and whether or not you read into any hidden messages or not. The themes that I personally believe the film is tackling may be totally different to the person next to me but it doesn’t matter. Holy Motors is a thrilling, darkly comic and bonkers film that is worth tracking down.
Due to the film’s premise, subject matter and country or origin, we got the chance to travel to our local Art House Cinema, Cornerhouse in Manchester. We saw the film in their small room which contains just 58 seats but when the lights went down the cinema was full. After an ominously bizarre opening we see Denis Lavant leave his seemingly loving family and mansion behind and head for a waiting limousine. If this were any other film you’d likely expect he was a businessman or some sort but it isn’t long before his driver takes him to his first ‘appointment’. Before this opening appointment the camera swoops around to show the remainder of the limousines’ interior which instead of being filled with sofas, TVs and fridges is stocked with all manner of props, wigs and makeup cases. In no time Lavant is transformed into his first character, an old beggar woman of the sort you see around The Eiffel Tower. After several minutes of being ignored on the street he is back in the limo and off to his next appointment. The second and third appointments are for me the highlights of the film. One is an incredibly beautiful look at motion capture, shot in a darkened room with UV light and features incredible visuals, choreography and the most contorted woman I’ve ever seen. The third is the strangest and funniest vignette and sees Lavant dressed as a sort of tramp/Quasimodo figure and having interrupted a fashion shoot, steals the model before taking her to his underground lair. The film reaches a crescendo at this point which it is never really able to match. At the time I thought to myself “I’m looking at Eva Mendes dressed in a Burqa, singing a lullaby to a naked man with an obvious and exposed erection. Where can they go from here?” The answer is that they reel the film in slightly and take the audience to more emotional and heartfelt places.
Denis Lavant’s performance in this film is simply incredible. I haven’t seen a better acting job this year and I’d be surprised if I do. If the film wasn’t so strange and commercially off-putting he would be a shoe-in for the major awards next February. Even so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Oscar nomination if the Academy is feeling brave. Lavant literally transforms himself about nine or ten times, playing totally different characters each time. It’s not just the sheer number that is impressive though, it is the quality of the performances which really stands out. He is truly awe inspiring in this film.
The film’s message and themes are as I’ve mentioned open to interpretation. Personally it felt to me like a satire on the nature of acting and how these days with the likes of camera phones and CCTV an actor can never switch off. We don’t know who is watching so we are always performing. Equally it could be interpreted as stating that we show different sides of ourselves to different people. I know that I’m a totally different person with my girlfriend as I am with the people at work for instance. It seems likely that the film is trying to talk about a variety of issues and themes and perhaps other people will pick up on different aspects of the strange world that it creates. That and Lavant’s performance are its two major strengths.
Some people will inevitably be put off by Holy Motors premise, style and quirkiness but if you stick with it and allow it to wash over you it’s a brilliantly weird film that will be popping up on lots of Top 10 lists come December.