Holy Motors: to live and relive according to Leos Carax
by Fabien Lemercier
- French cinema’s enfant terrible is back with a visually exceptional, metaphorical film of dizzying heights and delirious depths.
A dreamer walks through a secret door in a wall and, at the end of a corridor, enters another dimension where another man, probably his double or, more likely, man in general, embarks on a journey, reincarnated as multiple symbolic avatars. With Holy Motors [+see also:
interview: Leos Carax
film profile], unveiled yesterday evening in the competition at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, French cinema’s enfant terrible Leos Carax propels his audience to delirious metaphorical depths, where the best at times appears alongside the worst, where visual and creative brilliance is outrageously unbridled, and where misanthropy and philosophy attempt to coexist.
Of course the film’s concept wasn’t popular with all the international journalists who saw it, but it is clear that the filmmaker (of the legendary fall from grace with The Lovers on the Bridge in 1991, and who hadn’t made a feature film since Pola X, in the Cannes competition in 1999) ardently seeks out this reactive red line between admiration and hatred. But the suicidal nihilism so intensely expressed in some provocative (gratuitous, some will say) scenes and the director’s bombardment in symbols and metaphors should however not detract from the fact that Holy Motors is an exceptionally rich film, carried off by a protean actor who is absolutely as crazy as his creator: Denis Lavant.
Monsieur Oscar (Lavant)’s alchemist’s crucible is an extra-long white limousine in which his female assistant and driver has prepared his files for his meetings. For each of these, he will be a different character, making himself up in the car that looks like a theatre dressing room heaped with accessories. A protected businessman (followed by a car full of bodyguards) who throws about absurds figures and considers (mirror of the “persecuted” filmmaker) an arms deal ("They want our skin! We are misery's scape goats. It excites the people. Tonight to le Fouquet’s!") is followed by a repulsive, crumbling old man begging on the banks of the Seine. Then Monsieur Oscar puts on a jumpsuit covered in sensors for combat and “alien” shots in motion capture (fascinating computer world sequence topped by a bestial metamorphosis bursting with sexuality). Another quick chameleon change in the limousine, and here is Monsieur Oscar who has transformed himself into Monsieur Merde (lit. "Mister Shit" - already seen in Carax’s segment of the ensemble film Tokyo! [+see also:
film profile]), a human being who has degenerated to the level of a beast and who emerges from the sewers and catacombs to abduct a model (Eva Mendes) in the middle of a photo shoot in a graveyard, before taking her back to his underground lair for a very symbolic, accelerated relationship (starring an erect penis). The next incarnation brings the pace down a little with a pseudo-cool father being told a small lie by his unhappy teenage daughter. The word "Interval" then pops up, and Denis Lavant picks up an accordion to lead musicians in a vertiginous farandole inside a church.
Monsieur Oscar then launches back into his multi-facetted existence. He is his double’s killer in a parking lot (thriller), the assassin of a banker on the terrace at le Fouquet’s (one of the many times the film comes full circle), a dying old man in a luxurious hotel with his niece by his side (heavy melodrama), and then himself again for a fortuitous meeting with another actress, an ex-girlfriend (Kylie Minogue) who bursts into song before throwing herself off the rooftop of La Samaritaine and killing herself. It’s life, it’s comedy, and it’s also cinema. At the end of the night, Monsieur Oscar tires and returns home to a new life (a family of monkeys and collective karma).
From its dizzying heights to its delirious depths, from the sublime to the abject, from the profound to the ostentatious, from humour to pontification, Holy Motors, through its infinite game of mirrors about life and the desire to endlessly relive it, reflects its director who here perpetuates his persona of a damned artist and make his stupendous transformist actor say: "I am carrying on as I started: for the beauty of the act!"
(Translated from French)