Holy shit, I loved Holy Motors.
As the movie rolls, we are introduced to a blind man (the director, Leos Carax) waking. He and his dog guide us into a viewing room where we are introduced to protagonist Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) leaving home very early morning. His house is enormous and white, resembling a land-locked submarine. He walks his long, heavily guarded driveway down to his waiting white limo where Céline (Edith Scob), his elegant driver, awaits him. Oscar takes calls and we are led to believe that he is a heavy hitter in the business realm. But, then, Céline provides the details for his first “assignment.” He reads the portfolio and we watch him prepare with make-up, wig, clothing.
During the drive, we are treated to the view of the tranquil green-line roads that will eventually lead us to the City of Lights.
(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)
Assignment #1: Oscar disembarks from limo to stand on a busy Paris street dressed like an elderly woman—hunched over, babushka’d and asking for spare change. People pass him/her on the street but no one interacts. Following this assignment, he’s back in the limo, conducting the same ritual: reading the assignment, dressing a new part and being dropped off. And, so it continues. But, why? For whom?
Assignment #2: Oscar is dressed in a black skintight body suit adorned with pellets. He is holding a scepter as he enters a building and into a simulated video and porn shoot wherein your senses will feel the impact of this visual feast.
Assignment #3 is what might happen if the Leprechaun from the ‘80s horror flicks came to life and wreaked havoc onto unsuspecting visitors at the Père-Lachaise cemetery. Eva Mendes has a non-speaking yet unforgettable role as Kay M, a high-fashion model (rumor has it this role was written for Kate Moss but she dropped out due to a conflict). One of the words uttered in this scene is weird. Yes. Very.
Assignment #4 is a father-daughter fight that escalates, leaving emotional scars that will be the source of resentments and recriminations that will surface any time either hears Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head.
Assignment #5 is a musical intermission of accordionists and, of course, Oscar is leader.
The next few assignments revolve around death, assassinations and lost dreams.
We get insight into Oscar when his limo collides with another limo transporting Eva, an “actor” on her way to an appointment—someone who Oscar knows (we know her too because it’s Kylie Minogue). While the drivers discuss the accident, Oscar and Eva scamper into a vacated mall strewn with mannequin bits. She sings to Oscar. If you pay attention, she’s telling him about a child they may have had together. (Is this segment simply another assignment?)
Oscar is dropped off for his final assignment (or is it his real life?). He and Céline say goodnight. Oscar enters a house and greets his wife and child who are chimps. Does this symbolize a less complex life with fewer disappointments? Is there a real Oscar or is this part of the commentary—that we are always playing roles and may not really know ourselves, after all.
In this Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/selfie era of instant fame, is each appointment a new chapter or episode in “reality” shows in which Oscar stars? Has he compromised himself for fame? When he takes his lunch break, he turns on the TV; instead of watching a show or the news, he watches the Paris streets and longs for forests.
Acting? Longevity? Life and death? What are the themes in Holy Motors? We’re taught to interpret surroundings and deconstruct tones and expressions. Holy Motors challenges our ability to do this. The way we’re socialized makes it difficult to not try to extract an absolute meaning. Is it not enough we have the gifted Lavant who carries the film with precise body movements, his ability to embody each new role and his expressive face?
I don’t guarantee you will like Holy Motors. You may watch it and have a WTF moment. It’s a kaleidoscopic romp through nine (or ten) assignments, many which will linger. For me, it was a spectacular viewing adventure. My only regret was missing it on the big screen.
Writer/Director: Leos Carax
Genre: Drama with fantasy elements
Run time: 115 minutes