Curiosity seekers interested in this picture because of its hyped-up reception at Cannes, as well as descriptions by smitten critics such as ‘exhilarating’, ‘completely bonkers’ and ‘balls-to-the-wall crazy’, will likely be disappointed. That is unless you’re willing to completely give in to Leos Carax’s exercise in inane randomness. But from these eyes, the general acceptance and praise of this film must have Mr. Carax laughing his ass off, having fooled overly analytical critics into thinking that Holy Motors is any good.
Holy Motors (2012) dir. Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Levant, Edith Scob, Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes
By Alan Bacchus
There’s much in common with David Cronenberg’s Cannes inclusion, Cosmopolis - the idea of a man driving around the city in a limousine and engaging in deliriously surreal encounters with minimal overt purpose. There was a semblance of a narrative, theme and purpose in Cronenberg’s film, but in Holy Motors the joke seems to be on us.
As much as I could gather, Oscar (Denis Levant) seems to be some kind of actor or Lon Chaney ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ whose agenda for the day includes nine appointments, each one a surprise to him and us. As such, it’s an episodic work, a film divided into these nine or so (I didn’t really count) scenes.
Driving him around the city is an older woman, Celine, who serves as some sort of shepherd for Oscar, aiding and serving him in his duties. Going by the title, there’s a religious metaphor at play with Oscar perhaps being some kind of angel moving in and out of people’s lives.
Each of the sequences is like a random mélange of writing. Early on we see Oscar turn himself into an old bag lady, panhandling on the street. Nothing becomes of this scene. For his second appointment he turns himself into a troll out of The Lord of the Rings, runs amuck stealing and eating flowers from the gravestones of a cemetery, and then invades a fashion photo shoot, bites the fingers of an innocent bystander and kidnaps Eva Mendes, taking her to an underground lair to show her (and the audience) his erect penis. Nothing pays off from this scene either. Later on, Oscar turns himself into a domestic family man, seemingly returning to his home to be with his wife and child. Only later do we realize his family is a pair of chimpanzees.
Holy Motors fails for me not because of the obliqueness of the big picture connection (this I can accept) but because the individual scenes are impenetrable, each one a free association of inane cinematic rambling. Even David Lynch at his most beguiling can satisfy his audience with individual set pieces or moments of drama and cinema.
The only two vignettes to cherish in this picture are the motion capture interpretive dance sequence featured in much of the publicity and advertising of the film, and the inspired intermission musical sequence featuring Oscar and a band of accordion players filmed in one long take. Everything else is a bore of monumental proportions, the Cloud Atlas of European art films.