Before MIFF had started this year, the only work I had seen from Leos Carax was his segment from the omnibus feature “Tokyo!”. The absurd nature of that story didn’t appeal to me much, but when “Holy Motors” premiered at Cannes this year and word got out about how insane the film was, it quickly made my list of films to see. By the time my screening for it came around, I had caught up with the majority of Carax’s oeuvre (with the exception of “Pola X” which is screening later in the festival), so I felt I was better equipped to tackle his latest film. That would be a false assumption to make because “Holy Motors” is unlike anything he has done previous and boy, is it weird.
The film is about a man named Oscar, played by Carax’s muse Denis Lavant, who is being driven around all day in a white stretch limousine by the lovely Celine (played by Edith Scob) to a number of “appointments”. These appointments entail him to play out a number of scenarios until he moves on to the next, and he uses the limousine more like a dressing room as he readies himself for each character he must perform. Amongst the roles Oscar portrays in his day are a beggar, a thug, a father of a young teenage girl, a stand-in for a weird motion capture experience, and a family man to name a few. Lavant even shows up as his character from the “Tokyo!” segment in one of the more surreal moments of “Holy Motors”.
So what does it all mean? That is hard to say, but my take on it was that it was a look at actors and what it takes to become an actor. The kinds of things that actors are asked to do, and what it costs the humans behind these roles. I also think that Carax was predicting the downfall of cinema, or he is at least looking sadly at what has changed in the thirteen years since his last feature was released. There are a number of references to the change of technology and Oscar himself clearly states that he “misses the cameras” in regards to the fact that with today’s technology the camera’s themselves are so small that the grandness of cinema now seems lost. It is no longer as special as it once was. These ideas are echoed again in the very funny final scene in the car garage.
The problem with the structure of the film is that we struggle to know Oscar as a person because we spend so much time with the characters he is performing rather than when he is out of character. That is another deficiency with the film because we only spend a short amount of time with these characters that it is hard to invest much in them. We also know that there is no danger involved so it is hard to care because even if the character dies or is injured we know Oscar will get up to perform his next role. That said the majority of the vignettes are highly entertaining and some are quite emotional too. The scene were Oscar plays a father bringing home his daughter from a party is honest and very sad, as is the scene when he plays an old man on his death bed. The most entertaining segment though is Lavant’s reprisal of his “Tokyo!” character, Merde. It is a great and surreal take on “Beauty and the Beast” with Eva Mendes playing a model. The best segment though is the one which Kylie Minogue appears who is playing another actor whose next role is of a suicidal air hostess. I believe this is the only time we see Oscar as himself as we find out that he and Minogue’s character used to be item and may have once had a child together. It is such a sad moment in the film and I must make mention of Minogue’s regretful and melancholic performance here. Her character sings a terribly sad song titled “Who Were We” that is actually the highlight of the whole film. This is a Kylie Australian audiences have never seen before.
Before watching these Carax films the past fortnight I was pretty unaware of Denis Lavant as an actor. It goes without saying that I now see his brilliance for what it is, he is outstanding in “Holy Motors”. He gives so much to each role he is performing and even if it has limited screen time, he gives it one hundred percent the whole time. What I love about him is that he is a chameleon, he can disappear into a role so that you never see the actor only the character and he is a master of it. He is also phenomenally gifted as a physical actor. He doesn’t just act with his emotions, he acts with his whole body, giving each different character his own look and walk. Again, he is amazing. Edith Scob plays Celine, Oscar’s driver, and she will always be remembered as the protagonist in Georges Franju’s lyrical horror film “The Eyes Without A Face”, in fact there is a nice visual homage to that film in “Holy Motors” towards the end. I must admit that I really only associate Edith Scob as being Franju’s muse, so I was unaware that she has been regularly working all the way up until this film. Although she has little to do really, she is lovely in her role of Celine.
Overall, I found Leos Carax’s latest film “Holy Motors” to be infinitely entertaining although I’m not sure it is entirely successful. It is full of great surreal and melancholic moments as well as being very funny at times. If anything you need to see the film just to witness Denis Lavant’s brilliance in multiple roles.