Acclaimed writer/director Leos Carax has returned after a 13 year hiatus with his latest feature Holy Motors, a mind-blowing journey that follows the story of one unusual man over one amazing day as he travels the city in a very special white limo.
Oscar (Denis Lavant) is an employee of the mysterious Agency and a man who’s on a tight schedule. Driven around by chauffeur and confidant Céline (Edith Scob), Carax favourite Lavant is perfectly cast as the morphing Oscar, his physicality and features ideal for his character role(s).
Beginning at an indescript apartment, Holy Motors introduces us to a man with a metallic finger who leads us to a cinema audience, via a secret door, setting up the surreal nature of this audacious sci-fi movie which challenges the notion of ‘cinema’ and its audience.
Supplied with a number of appointments Oscar gets ready for each one in the strange interior of the white limo watched over by the reassuring Céline. As if working from a predefined script, albeit one we’re not aware of, Oscar takes on the roles of banker and bag lady among others, and even partakes in some virtual sex. But where are the cameras? We’re never quite sure.
Set in Paris, but in a world a little different than our own, Holy Motors is The Truman Show on acid. But who’s watching and are the public unwilling participants of some elaborate unreality show?
While pondering this existential quandary, the film launches into an interval, a captivating and stunning musical ensemble headed by Oscar, now playing the accordion, leading a rag-tag orchestra through a deserted church that takes the audience by surprise yet again.
As Oscar’s day progresses, the film and its characters become more violent and a little more horrific. Taking on the persona of a crazed sewer dweller, he comes face to face with model Kay M, played by Eva Mendes. The shocking storyline hits a hyper-surreal level as the model is embroiled in very weird combo of gore and sexual desire.
Holy Motors is a film that explores every aspect of human life, from parenthood to murder, but in such a mind-bending way that makes the plot of Donny Darko seem straightforward. Death pervades the film from natural and unnatural causes that challenge the idea of character and performer, leading to lots more head-scratching, and although it was unnecessary even the limos have their say.
Lavant’s Oscar is the key to this film; his central performance is truly outstanding, convincing the audience to follow him and his alter egos on an evocative sanity busting voyage. From monster to father to lover, his transformations are unfathomable.
En route to another appointment, Oscar recognises Jean (Kylie Minogue) riding an identical limo following her own schedule. Their impromptu rendezvous reveals a past we’re unaware of and
emotions that belong to the actors and not their characters. Minogue surprises us with a song as they reminisce, before she faces her own character’s fate.
Oscar’s journey like the day gets darker and darker before the car returns to its final resting place. At this point Carax tries to push one idea too many into the movie and it suffers for it.
Holy Motors is a visionary piece of nutty cinema that weaves motion capture, existential angst, and martial arts into a refreshingly original movie. Although it won’t be to everybody’s taste I found it oddly satisfying yet intellectually baffling.
French language with subtitles (cert 18)