Review: Holy Motors

Written & Directed by Leos Carax
Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes & Kylie Minogue

Opening in NYC @ Film Forum on Wednesday, October 17

All the world is a stage, and in French new, New Wave Auteur Leos CaraxHoly Motors’ that stage spans the scope of all humanist livelihood; from life’s daily grind to its infinite means and ends; the absurdist stage of ‘Holy Motors’ encompasses place to place, being to being and life to life through the objective eye of film’s illimitable possibilities.  The stage on which ‘Holy Motors’ is played comes from the pen of Bertolt Brecht, as directed by David Lynch under the ever-watchful eye of producer Jean-Luc Godard.  It is absurd, ridiculous, beautiful and timely, and it exudes an unquestionable originality and fearlessness from one hopefully resurgent visionary director.

Frequent Carax acting collaborator Denis Lavant, in no fewer then nine roles over the course of one very long day, is the films bridge from life to cinema.  He may play a fading actor, unable to cope with the shifts of an increasingly digitized, and minimalist, world; a victim of the digital “talkie” still enamoured by the larger than life allowances of faded celebrity.  Lavant’s Monsieur Oscar may in fact be a free flying soul of the long deceased, inhabiting others with the wisdom of a man who has already seen hell and back.  Or he could be one of the world’s wealthiest, perhaps politically inclined, traveling through the shoes of the everymen he will ultimately pander to.   Whatever he is, Oscar brings the existential questions of a life well lived to impressive array of beings he is required to assume.  He is the wealthy CEO and the decrepit gypsy.  He is the freak, the parent, the artist and the heartbroken.  With a few flicks of the makeup brush and the facial grooming options of a leprechaun, Lavant takes Oscar from life to life, audaciously challenging your own personal choices and laughing all the way to nowhere.

The only figure of consistency in Oscar’s life seams to be Edith Scob’s Celine, his limousine driver.   The have known each other for quite some time, perhaps over generations.  Celine performs her duties with a stoic coolness; she serves as she guides.  As her pearly white stretch travels through the kaleidoscopic roadways of a fully illuminated city of lights, Celine represents the real in this surrealist farce.  Whether omnipotent guardian or loyal laborer, Celine is the constant by which Oscar finds his only comfort; he confides in her “some days one murder simply is not enough”; he allows himself to laugh with her, if only she would allow herself.

What makes Oscar a sad man is it seems as though he yearns for comfort, at one point looking for it in the lap of a very Pieta-esqe Eva Mendes.    In another, he is the concerned father aggressively looking out for the insecurities of his pubescent daughter who ultimately rejects him with justifiable scorn, and then finally, on a rooftop with surely the finest Parisian view, reconnecting with the lost love of Kylie Minogue’s Eva Grace.

Eva is as much like Oscar as can possibly be.  She too admits to traveling between lives; tonight is her stewardesses last night on Earth.  She sings to Oscar, traveling through the bedraggled department store hallways of dismembered mannequins and dilapidated countertops, explaining her betrayal with full orchestral backing.  In all instances Oscar finds himself where he started, jaunting down the road to monotonous infinity with Celine’s concern patiently waiting.

Holy Motors’ begins with sleepwalking Carax walking through his bedroom wall into a packed, yet emotionless theater.  Admittedly an ardent admirer of Jean Luc-Godard, he makes his cinematic mentor proud by presenting the audience with an audience as the audience and doing so as a prelude to the hallucination.  The audience is allowed to think what they will of a film Carax does not seem to care much what is ultimately thought about it.  He has made a film about film and a film about life on film.  In 115 relatively long running minutes Carax is able to show the good, bad, sweet, sour, criminal, mortal and even has time for the fantastic.  Even as the film’s highlight, a beautifully choreo and photographed contemporary ballet by way of the motion capture process, comes early on ‘Holy Motors’ has enough in the tank to enthrall the art house with its steady stream of anarchist humor, cinematic grandiloquence and film faith restoring originality.  ‘Holy Motors’ is the most original and daring film of the year.  It is not for everyone, but a must see for anyone interested in pushing boundaries without compromise.

-Steve Rickinson



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