Holy Motors

Year 2012

Denis Lavant   as  M. Oscar
Edith Scob as   CÚline
Director - Leos Carax  
Screenwriter - Leos Carax

Holy Motors is a rare, intelligent gem of a movie that covers a lot of ground. Is it a day in the life of an actor whose stage is the real world? Or is the actor a supernatural being? Or is it all in the mind of a theater caretaker who is recalling things very vividly?

It's a film that's mostly in French, although there is some English and some Chinese and maybe a smattering of other languages along the way. My version had lousy subtitles. The English was bad and even when it was grammatically correct, it rarely matched the words of the language being spoken. That's too bad.

But to start commenting on Holy Motors, maybe it's best to just describe the movie. In the opening scene, it's the inside of a theater and people are watching some movie. Someone in the movie is shot and the horn of a boat is heard.

A man next to an airport awakens in his flat, leaves the flat, and arrives in the theater where a very large dog is passing down the aisle.

Then we meet Monsieur Oscar (Lavant) and his trusty driver CÚline (Scob). Mr. Oscar is an older, wealthy gentleman. He has a list of things to accomplish during the day. They all involve him becoming someone else. After he gets into his limosine, he changes and becomes an old beggar woman. She panhandles a while, then Oscar gets back in the limo and dons motion capture garments. Finishing with that, he gets back in the limo and becomes a lunatic kidnapper. We never see him get back in the limo for this one.

But he reappears as an assassin. This one doesn't seem like it quite works out for Mr. Oscar. More on this later. After that, CÚline gets Mr. Oscar back to the limo and he's off on his next assignment. This time he's a blue-collar father picking up his daughter. After this one, after the limo picks him up, he spots Mr. Oscar and spontaneously decides to kill him. Once again, CÚline saves him and carries him on to his next appointment.

This time he's a man dying of old age. After that, there's a traffic jam where Mr. Oscar runs into another "actor". Finally, it's time to go home. But not to the mansion of the original Mr. Oscar. This night he sleeps somewhere else.

So let's summarize:

  1. Mr. Oscar - a wealthy gentleman on his way to work (planned)
  2. An old beggar woman (planned)
  3. Motion capture artist (planned)
  4. Crazy kidnapper (planned)
  5. Assassin (planned)
  6. Assassin's victim returned from the dead (unplanned?)
  7. The blue-collar dad (planned)
  8. The real character who kills Mr. Oscar (unplanned)
  9. Dying old man (planned)
  10. Reunited ex-lover (planned)
  11. Working stiff going home for the night (planned)

Some of the scenes are more complex than others, but all share the same thread of life, but larger than life. It's almost as if all of the scenes were meant to be, but by Mr. Oscar taking on the over-the-top tragic ones, maybe real people didn't have to. Like the crazy kidnapper scene. Maybe because Mr. Oscar bit the fingers off of someone and abducted a model, it never had to happen in real life.

This makes sense because of a scene at La Samaritaine where Mr. Oscar meets another actor that might have been his future lover in the past (tenses get a real workout in this scene). La Samaritaine is the female form of "The Good Samaritan" and the woman in the scene Eva Grace (Kylie Minogue) states that the abandonded department store is her Utopia. I'm thinking that it means she and all of the actors are Good Samaritans that are helping non-actors (i.e. us normal folk) by experiencing the bad where possible so that non-actors don't have to.

Because the movie isn't real life. Mr. Oscar dies more than once. His alter egos also die. And he isn't the only actor performing his task.

In the assassin scene, Mr. Oscar kills a man named Alex by severing his jugular vein. Then he dresses the dead Alex as himself. As he turns the corpse into Mr. Oscar outwardly, the transformation is more than just external. The dead man becomes Mr. Oscar and comes to life to sever the jugular vein of the original Mr. Oscar. One of the Mr. Oscars makes it back to the limosine for the next assignment, but which one? The original or the transformed Alex? Does it matter? CÚline watches out for whoever happens to be the current Mr. Oscar.

Who is the guardian angel? Is it CÚline? Is it Mr. Oscar? Is it the limosine? Are both CÚline and Mr. Oscar two types of guardian angels? Perhaps. And why did I mention the limosine? In the last scene, all of the limosines of the actors carry on a conversation.

In Mr. Oscar's last scene, he's the husband and father to a couple of chimpanzees. This alone changes the meaning of the previous assignments. Everything gets blurred.

About Denis Lavant... Can one man pull off all of the characters in all of the assignments credibly? Yep. He did a heck of a job.

Is it a perfect movie? No. What's up with the song in the middle of the movie? Oh, The Ruling Class had a a song, but it was a rather whimsical movie so it didn't seem out of place. This song does. (I'm glad it was there because the translation was so poor and the song was in English.) And do we really need to have about a minute of seeing Lavant's engorged manhood? Do we really? I didn't. A bulge under some garments, and he should have been wearing something anyway, would have worked just as well.

It's an upbeat movie with lots of layers and interpretations. After having recently watched the flawed El Topo and the equally indulgent The Fountain, it was a wonderful breath of fresh air to come across Holy Motors.

Another thing good about this movie was the direction. Leos Carax has a way with camera angles, scene selection, panning, and economy of environment that is remarkable. I'll be checking out more of his films.

There's enough going on in this movie that it will probably have a different meaning with repeated viewings. It can be watched more than once because it won't get stale but also to catch a number of things that perhaps were missed the first time.

There's one scene of extended nudity involving Lavant's odd looking Little Lavant standing at attention, but no blasphemy. If a girl can handle this scene, there's some serious chick flick potential for a thinking woman.

Writing of which, I'm indebted to Amber for introducing me to this movie.

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