6 October 2012

Review: Holy Motors

(Dir: Leos Carax, 2012)

Is life really an act and if so, who’s watching our performances? This slightly abstract concept about reality really intrigues me. After having read it twice I came to the conclusion that Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama is one of my favourite books. There are a multitude of reasons this is so, and I know it’s a book that probably frustrates many, but there’s this one thing in particular that really fascinates me about it - the camera crew that lead character Victor has following him around. No matter the crazy shit that’s going on they’re always there documenting his life... but to what end are they doing this and do they even actually exist? Cultural milieu and narcissim aside, is there really an audience? And I don’t mean in The Truman Show "big brother" sense.

Holy Motors is fascinating because it’s lead character is seemingly stuck in this position. Or is he stuck?  What is real and what is fake blur because nothing that happens seems real, yet everything exists in the reality of Paris, sometimes mundane sometimes outlandish, so how can any of it be fake? I’ll provide a little context, but only a little because a lot will take away too much away – Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) wakes up and leaves for work, getting into a stretch white limo where his driver / assistant Céline (Edith Scob) informs him he has nine appointments that day. And so he sets off on them. The word “appointments” may be somewhat misrepresentative.

Lavant is actually pretty incredible here, the range and ability he has to portray on screen in this single film is something that is possibly beyond most actors. This is what the phrase "chameleon like" means. It's one of the best performances I've seen the year. I was reminded of Cosmopolis, only partly because portions are set in a limo, but because that was a film driven by singular conversations and debates, which once completed moved the lead character onto another encounter. In Holy Motors there is a similar type of motion where once an appointment is completed it's done and it's time to prepare for the next.

And again I’m wondering who the “audience” is? Where are they? They must exist. Is anything here what it seems? Both Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue appear in different segments, in some ways playing very much to type (Eva Mendes the beauty for example), but also in a way that feels outside of what might be expected from them. These are the most recognisable faces in Holy Motors, they're not the core. Their presence adds an extra sense of fascination to a film that seems to revel in it’s fair share of “what the fuck?” moments. 

And let's not forget the preoccupation with death. This pervades, particularly later on, but it's presented in such a range that it encompasses the savage, the heartbreaking, the inevitable. Perhaps this is the core of the film? It comes to us all; it comes in different ways. The world keeps turning. Is this Monsieur Oscar rehearsing for it? He seems tired. But you can't prepare.

The more I think about Holy Motors the more intrigued I am and the more I like it. It’s really well shot and it’s effectively brave filmmaking from Carax. It’s thoroughly confident too and follows through with conviction. I want to go into more detail but I should say less - I went in entirely cold, not knowing the plot nor having seen the trailer. I was just aware of high plaudits, the poster and that it might be a little "out there", which was enough to get me in. This is a film truly best experienced without foreknowledge.

I'm aware this "review" reads like a mess of half-formed thoughts, ideas and interpretations, but it's kind of what and how I've been thinking about Holy Motors since watching it. I left the cinema a little uncertain about what I'd witnessed on screen and it's all been sinking in since. Initial coherence perhaps isn't a priority. And I'm still preoccupied with this thought about the audience. Who do we inhabit these roles for and why? I don't know the answer. Holy Motors is highly recommended if you don't like having your hand held.

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