His first film in thirteen years, France’s L’enfant terrible Leos Carax returns to the big screen in typically audacious fashion with a movie that is confounding and virtually impossible to ‘genrify’. It’s an experimence movie; often very funny, melodramatic, terrifying and melancholic. Holy Motors is so many things at once, and it’s uncompromising artistic conviction had me hypnotised.
Frustratingly, the opening of Holy Motors is it’s most pontificating and pretentious moment. Leos Carax himself, known only by the name ‘Le Dormeur’ (The Sleeper) in the credits, awakes in his apartment bedroom and opens up a secret partition to the balcony of a packed cinema, with a dog wandering in the aisles. For me, Carax is introducing what we are about to witness – this is a movie, nothing more than sheer artistic visionary. It whiffs of pomposity, but it does gear us up for just how frank this movie watch will be.
Meanwhile, Carax’s frequent leading man Denis Levant is introduced as Monsieur Oscar. Saying goodbye to his kids in his idyllic suburban home, he heads off to work in a stretch limousine. Driven around by the cordial chaffuer Céline (Edith Scob), Oscar’s car is also his moving office and dressing room. He is given files for the day’s “assignments”, dressed up in a melange of facades, including a hunched elderly beggar woman, a motion-capture sexual contortionist, a begrudging father of a teenage loser, a dying old uncle, and, most impressively, a grotesque sewer monster Monsieur Merde. The transitory dress up elements reminded me of the famous kids’ TV show Mr. Benn, but – instead of a magic door – Oscar’s limousine is the portal into another world.
After every assignment is completed, Oscar returns back to his wheeled throne, gearing up for the next job, he bumps into his begrudging employer(?) (Michel Piccoli) and old flame Jean (Kylie Minogue), who serenades him with a Gershwin-like showtune. All characters are knowing performers, or rather “players” in Carax’s absurd game, with chameleonic Levant giving one of the best overall performance I’ve seen in a movie this year.
It’s been regularly described as, “bat-shit crazy”, but in the best possible way. Rather than being loose and excessively cryptic, Carax applies a very conventional, episodic format to Holy Motors, which allows audiences to fully immerse themselves in the bizarre vignettes at it’s black heart.
I’m not the first to draw on comparisons with Lynch-like absurdity, Jodorowsky-like fantasy, Fellini style balletic vivacity, and Godardian transgression and reflexivity. However, regardless of how much I try to pinpoint it, if Holy Motors is about anything, it is Carax’s singular vision of cinema itself. It’s a melange of the golden oldie past, the diverse present and the unexpected future life of the big screen. It’s a dream, it’s a nightmare, and it’s a whole lot of fun.