Saturday, 29 September 2012

[Review] Holy Motors - And now for something completely different...

From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man... 

I'm completely aware of the cliché of what I'm about to say but I cannot urge you enough; if you haven't seen Holy Motors stop reading this, stop reading anything about it, don't even watch the trailer just go out and watch it. If not the best film released this year, it's without a doubt the most important. A spiralling trip into absolute insanity that manages to be cinematically chaotic, gloriously surreal, hilariously cheeky and something much, much more important; entirely new.

Perhaps strangest of all; Kylie Minogue is in a contender for film of the year...

I had never even heard the name Leos Carax before Cannes this year. Allegedly struggling to get finance for projects after 1999s Pola X, he took up walking around Paris, passing the same beggar every day, and eventually ending up with the idea that grew into what we have here. The film opens with Carax himself, climbing out of bed and into the cinema, gesturing the camera towards the screen as the audience sit silently and a toddler and a large black dog move through the aisle. Is it a dream? A confession? A warning? The only thing we know for sure is that it is only the beginning...

Holy Motors is pretty much indescribable, which doesn't make this review much easier. Denis Lavant gives the best performance of the year as Monsieur Oscar, first seen waving goodbye to his children before getting into a white stretch limo driven by Edith Scob (Eyes without a Face.) Inside the limo lies a folder detailing his first (of nine) 'appointment.' Next thing we know, the limo pulls up and out steps Oscar dressed as the aforementioned ancient beggar woman who shakes her empty tin and proclaims she hasn't seen anything but feet and stone for many years. Soon we're off to a motion capture studio for something that could easily be a behind the scenes extra from Avatar. What is portrayed as a completely sensual and ethereal love scene becomes a grotesque, and terrible alien sex scene with 1990s music video CGI. Next up; Monsieur Merde (who appeared in Cravax's 2008 Tokyo!) Merde is a ginger hobo fitted complete with milky eye and gnarled finger nails. In what manages to be both the most disturbing and most hilarious scene I've seen in a long time, Merde charges through a cemetery eating the flowers left on the graves, kicking a blind man before stumbling into a fashion shoot and kidnapping Eva Mendes all to the Godzilla theme tune. The scene ends with a haunting lullaby sung by Mendes and a twisted, surreal image of Beauty and Beast. I'll not detail any more, because it's just not fit to be described but we have cruel fathers, accordion players, chimpanzees and talking cars.

Yeah, this seems about right.

What do these appointments serve? Who are they for? Well of course the answer is; the audience. Mid way through the film an agent of the 'Holy Motors' appears in the back of the Limo and asks Oscar if he's tired. He replies with; 'I miss the cameras. They used to way a ton, then they were the size of our heads. Now we can't even see them.' Is this Carax's thoughts on the nature of modern independent film making? Cameras are in everything now and everybody with a PC and Adobe After Effects can make a viral success. Perhaps it's more, perhaps its on the nature of man and technology much like Cronenberg's Videodrome or our ever watched and observed CCTV lives. 

All the supporting players are great; Scob is elegant and brave as the Oscar's driver, Mendes' small role is pretty powerful and even Kylie Minogue provides a surprisingly good turn as another 'performer' who is also haunted by the fatigue. But this is Lavant's film. Part chameleon, part magician his performance is one of physical force and of composed restraint. It calls to mind the likes of Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets with the way he switches between roles. As his day continues, we begin to lose track of real personality and begin to wonder if such a thing even exists. Lavant sells it perfectly, Oscar is tired and on the verge but he keeps going, why? Perhaps it is the only thing he has left to identify with.

 I can see the word pretentious being thrown out by those unwilling to surrender themselves to Carax's odyssey. But as obtuse as it can seem, there is much to analyse and pick apart. Each appointment has something that grows and develops, existing individually (especially the Motion Capture scene) that also serve the overarching themes. This points to the film being a deconstruction of the role of an actor. Who adapt, push and even debase themselves to become and present a living being only to drop out and move on (schedule) to the next 'appointment.' Like his 'characters' Oscar exists only for the time he is on screen, he is effectively the shared creation of Carax and his audience. When the time has come to leave our seats he is has nothing left to go back to, no reason exist. Perhaps its broader, perhaps we are to see ourselves in Oscar, and the roles we adopt as we go about our day and life - The father, the musician, the dying old man. 

Holy Motors stands as a testament to insanity, to film making and to the audience. Like those it borrows from; Lynch, Goddard and even Kiarostami it manages to be familiar and yet completely unique. It is something that many have thought long dead; original. Take yourself to the cinema, switch off your phone and allow yourself to be absorbed, bemused and even a little threatened by Carax's film. A modern masterpiece. 


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