Holy Motors (2012) – directed by Leos Carax

On the last day of the New Zealand’s International Film Festival I saw Leos Carax’s Holy Motors at Auckland’s wonderful Civic Theatre. If David Lynch was born French then you’d have a semblance of the tonal qualities that Holy Motors attains, immediately evidenced through the choice of typeface and colour of the title … a nod to Twin Peaks I suggest. Like many David Lynch films, I’ve had to let Carax’s sensual, sexual, confusing, disgusting, humourous, fascinating, and ultimately unique style settle in my mind before jumping to any conclusions. And to be honest I’m still struggling to conclude anything concrete from Holy Motors. This is a difficult film to put into words, and I will not attempt to thoroughly describe the experience of seeing Holy Motors, let alone explain it. To do so would not do it justice as this is a film you just have to experience.

Right from the opening sequence the film turns the camera upon its audience, essentially informing you to watch it through critical eyes, telling you that this is art, a comment on the human condition, and not a narrative thrill. Indeed, Holy Motors is not a film that is to be read narratively. But for what it’s worth, the broad narrative arc deals with a day in the life of Oscar (Dennis Lavant). His various appointments are set up and prepared for from within his limousine (the titular Holy Motor) whereby he applies his makeup and costume and ventures forth to take on the role of various Parisian denizens. The camera follows him throughout the manifestation of each role in a linear fashion with each appointment unrelated to the next, linked only by Céline (Edith Scob), his limousine driver.

Carax wonderfully crafts Oscar’s world where we, the viewer, are dragged inexorably through his various quirky roles, often ignorant of any reason or motivations. We are taken into the depths of the Parisian sewers with a photo-shoot model (Eva Mendes) where he plays a homeless bum, and later a hitman, a dying uncle, a motion capture artist, and a father picking up his daughter. The only access we have to Oscars life outside of these episodic roles are the interludes in his limousine, his brief interactions with Céline who drives him to and from his various appointments, and the unforgettable final scene where Oscar deals with another “Holy Motor employee” Eva (Kylie Minogue). An old flame perhaps … it is unclear. Eva and Oscar wander through a derelict luxury hotel of yesteryear, Eva singing the chilling “Who Were We?” as they tread over the scattered bodies of dismembered mannequins … an existential metaphor I took as our world scattered with the dead lives that many of us live.

Holy Motors is a stunning film that successfully comments on the reality and value of the roles we live. There is a tangible relationship that we, the audience, share with Oscar, as he in-turn shares with his various roles. This expresses an interesting correlation with the audiences’ reception to fictional characters on screen, as overtly suggested in Holy Motors’ opening sequence. In a sense we unwittingly look upon ourselves looking upon ourselves. Hmmm I’m confident that I’ve only scratched the surface of this one … warrants a second watching.