The most provocative, most talked-about film of 2012 is French filmmaker Leo Carax’s ‘Holy Motors.’ This is a masterpiece. This film is also not for everyone. Some moviegoers will embrace Carax’s avant-garde vision and some will dismiss it as pure rubbish. One thing is certain; this film sets a precedent in cinema. It breaks the conventional boundaries of the traditional three act story structure. For audiences looking for logical answers, they will leave the theatre scratching their heads. This is precisely why I savored every minute of it. Leave it to the French for coming up with the most artsy film of the year. ‘Holy Motors’ has no narrative. What it has is just as rich. It has exhilarating visuals and a unique tone.
Carax’s surrealist influences are Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. Cocteau once commented, “Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.” The film essentially pays homage to cinema using metaphors throughout the story. Carax visually shows through an actor’s metamorphoses the birth of cinema and also its death with the replacement of film to digital cinematography. It’s brilliant. The story centers on Oscar (Denis Lavant) who spends the entire day riding around in a white stretch limo through the streets of Paris. His chauffeur/secretary is Celine (Edith Scob). She gives him assignments in the form of dossiers.
The inside of the limo houses a dressing room. Oscar transforms himself into diverse characters that would be fit for masters of disguise such as Charlie Chaplin and Lon Chaney. There is no explanation why he is given these assignments. It is exciting because the audience never knows what to expect next in this surreal journey. The opening scene is a gloomy hotel room where a figure rises from his sleep. It is Leos Carax himself. He dons some shades and lights a cigarette. He moves across the room where his finger acts as a key to open a portal into a cinema. References to Jean Cocteau films are used. He enters a movie theatre that shows an audience silently staring at the screen. This represents the birth of cinema.
Oscar goes on to his next assignment. He transforms himself into an old bag lady and begs for spare change on the streets of Paris. The passerby’s ignore him. This scene is fearless. It shows Carax fascination with the poor and destitute. Carax once commented that he had a fantasy that he might change clothes at a Parisian café and assume the role of a homeless person. Voila! Another powerful scene deals with motion capture. Oscar changes into a motion capture suit. He looks like an ocean diver in a skintight triathlete-style suit covered with strategically-placed lightbulbs. He enters a studio where he performs a series of actions. A female counterpart in another motion capture suit enters the studio. It is a stunning scene as the two perform an erotic dance together.
Carax is actually a romantic filmmaker at heart. This is evident with the use of beautiful female characters. There are two standout performances from American actress Eva Mendes and Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue. In one haunting scene, Oscar transforms himself into a flower-eating troll. He stumbles upon a fashion photo shoot at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. The impassive and silent model (Eva Mendes) is mesmerizing. It is beauty meets the beast. Another scene takes place at a gutted art deco department store called Samaritaine. Minogue’s showstopping musical number is emotional.
In Carax’s words, Cinema is “a beautiful island with a big cemetery.” If you go to see this film with an open mind, it is layered and offers so much. It is a surreal journey that pays homage to cinema. This is Carax’s first film shot digitally so to me, it is his way of paying homage to classic cinema and his reservations with digital filmmaking. This is an important film that should not be missed by diehard cinephiles. To find out where you can watch ‘Holy Motors,’ visit http://holymotorsfilm.com/