Director: Leo Carax
Les Films du Losange
Synopsis: In one surreal night, man goes around Paris in several different disguises, inhabiting different roles.
Overview: A movie as strange as it is enthralling, Leo Carax’s Holy Motors is a pitch perfect example of experimental cinema done right. Cynics may turn their nose up at the sheer oddness of the film, but if one can get on board, it’s most certainly worth the trip.
The film begins with a man (credited only as “The Sleeper” and played by Carax himself) waking up and walking into a packed movie theater. It’s a beautifully shot, albeit confusing scene, that truly sets the stage for what’s about to come. Carax is acknowledging that what’s about to take place is indeed a film. He is viewing the movie he made, the very movie the audience is about to see. Holy Motors is self-aware, but not in the cynical, constantly self deprecating sense. It simply knows what’s happening is a movie. It is a fact, and nothing more. Holy Motors is itself about the making of Holy Motors. The basic plot of the film, if there is one, follows an enigmatic man under various aliases (played by Denis Lavant) as he travels around France in a limousine wearing myriad disguises and doing different things as different people. He masquerades as a poor old woman begging on the street, then a motion capture artist, then an insane man who kidnaps a fashion model and takes her to the catacombs. It’s a whirlwind of activity and takes some getting used to, and entertaining as it is, what does it all mean? Is he merely acting or is he truly being these people? Is it all for show, or is he inhabiting the very lives and auras of the people he’s saying he is?
It seems Carax is making a statement about the relationship between the audience and the art. He’s asking how far can art go before it bleeds into the real. Take Errol Morris’s seminal 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line. Normally, films exist solely for the consumption of an audience and do not do much beyond that. Morris’s documentary was so powerful in its argumentation and so well executed and crafted it got a man exonerated from death row. No longer did art function merely as entertainment, a way to kill time. Art has become a force in the real world. There are examples even before that. Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle helped open people’s eyes to the abhorrent conditions in the meatpacking industry. Carax recognizes that art is much more than momentary pleasure and that it has the power to affect people deeply. Holy Motors is Carax’s way of illustrating that. In some ways it’s an interactive film, nearly talking right to the audience as they watch it.
Beyond the meaning inherent to the film, it yields an entertaining and completely wild viewing. Carax commands the movie expertly and whenever it seems as if things are getting into a pattern, he throws a proverbial monkey wrench into the works and takes it all in a completely different direction. Nothing is as it seems and everything and everyone is important. Every frame brings some new mystery and as a whole it is absolutely wonderful.