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‘Holy Motors’ movie review: Weirdness wears out its welcome

Holy Motors

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If you think your job requires you to work through an ambitious to-do list, maybe you should shadow Holy Motors’ Monsieur Oscar as he works through his daily appointments, which require him to play the roles of stealthy assassin, hunched-over gypsy beggar, sexually charged ninja warrior, and finger-eating, supermodel-kidnapping man-beast.

Eva Mendes and Denis Lavant in HOLY MOTORS
Eva Mendes and Denis Lavant in HOLY MOTORSIndomina Media

Assuming those personas and others is all part of a hard day’s work in Holy Motors, opening Nov. 30 in Atlanta after debuting at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Denis Lavant plays Monsieur Oscar, whose unusual occupation seems him taking on various guises as he works through the assignments given him by a cryptic employer whose motivations remain mysterious.

A chauffeur (Summer Hours’ Edith Scob, mostly wasted here) is on hand to remind him of his appointments, make sure he eats his meals, and cart him around Paris in an impossibly enormous white limo that houses his extensive array of costumes, wigs, makeup and prosthetics. And should he go rogue and attempt to, say, murder a banker while wearing a bizarre red mask and no shirt, only to then be gunned down by his bodyguards, she can handle that mess too.

In Holy Motors, acclaimed French writer/director Leos Carax (Pola X, Lovers on the Bridge) tosses the cinematic rulebook out the windows, taking the viewer through a bizarre series of adventures. Too bad, though, that he forgets to make us care: nearly every emotion in the film feels false.

Given the film’s surrealist nature, the lack of feeling might be acceptable if Carax peppered Holy Motors with generous helpings of suspense or satiric wit, a-la David Lynch or Luis Bunuel. But these elements are mostly lacking as well.

Maybe it’s all about the spectacle. And Holy Motors does deliver plenty of imaginative cinematography. But even in the most visually arresting scenes – futuristic combat morphing into a colorful, shape-shifting sexual encounter, or an accordion-playing Monsieur Oscar leading a motley crew of musicians through a vast church – repetition eventually dulls the excitement.

Elsewhere, Carax’s artistic decisions also backfire. Unusual musical selections frequently prove grating rather than invigorating, as does the endless genre hopping. Even Lavant’s balls-out (literally) performance feels like an empty stunt – all about the act, as Oscar would say.

Is it enough for a film to be brazenly different than the norm? If you’re looking for more from your moviegoing experience, Holy Motors will likely leave you stranded.

Grade: D

"Holy Motors" opens in Atlanta on Nov. 30 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

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