Thursday, December 20, 2012
Holy Motors (***1/2)
Directed by Leo Carax
Holy Motors is a strange movie. But it seems strange in a David Lynchian sort of way, that seems to cry out for meaning - for a puzzle to be solved. (As opposed to strange in a The Master sort, which is mostly just eccentric and aimless, and by the end seems to be exactly about being aimless.) I have never been a huge Lynch fan. I consider Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. to be two tremendous movies, but I don't know why. If you want so strongly to imbue a story with a foundation of metaphor and meaning, why make it so difficult to understand? Why make putting the puzzle together so much work? Well, you can only bang your head against a wall so many times before you realize what a dumb activity it is, and that's how I feel about finding meaning in Holy Motors. I just sat back and enjoyed the fantastic limousine ride.
The film deals with Monsieur Oscar (a chameleonic Denis Lavant), and spends a day in his life as he has numerous "appointments". He rides in the back of a limousine with his driver and assistant, Celine (Edith Scob), who has dutifully prepared reports for each appointment. These appointments take the form of parallel lives as Oscar transforms into various figures (applying his own make-up in the back of the limo) around Paris. At one point he is a ragged beggar woman, at another he is a motion-capture performer, at another he is a greedy banker and at another he's dirty, eccentric wildman who frantically eats flowers (amongst other things). This character kidnaps a model played by Eva Mendes, takes her to his home underground and turns her outfit into a Islamic shawl. Again, the meaning here is for you to dig up.
At times, Oscar's characters seem to run into each other. Sometimes, other characters seem to know him at one moment and then not know him the next - though Celine's recognition is always perpetually attentive. He sustains injuries and attacks that would kill any regular human being, and in fact it seems like he is dying at certain moments, but by the time the appointment is over, he just goes back to the limousine, getting ready to prepare the make-up for the next one. There's an enchanting sequence when he meets up with a woman (played by English pop singer Kylie Minogue) who may or may not be a former lover. It's the only moment in the film that seems like it may be the real Oscar without any facade and it leads to a poignant musical number (where, of course, Minogue provides the vocals). But with this film you can never really tell if something's real, because so much of it isn't.
The movie is an exercise in extreme artistry, somehow possessing earmarks of both the modern and the post-modern. It's often funny, but never in any way involving a set-up and punchline, but more because of the preposterous nature of the events that we are seeing. Sometimes, I found myself laughing because I was incredibly uncomfortable with images being shoved in front of me. References to French and American cinema are sprinkled throughout (most notobly, Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face which starred Scob in one of it's lead roles), and the entire industry of film seems to be the main target here (see, look! I can look for meaning sometimes!). But the power of this movie comes from the shape-shifting performance of Levant and the astonishing images that director Leo Carax puts on the screen - some very grotesque, but a great many beautiful and entrancing.
Trying to dissect meaning in films is an old film school habit that dies hard for most, but died pretty quickly and easily for me. Sitting there trying to figure out tires me, and quite frankly, makes the film much less enjoyable. Holy Motors opens with a nameless man waking in his bed (this man is played by Carax, himself) and approaching a wall with wallpaper that resembles a forest. There is a keyhole at a certain part of the wall. Something that can only be opened with a key that is growing out of one of his fingers. He opens a hole in the wall with this finger key and he happens upon a cinema where people watch a silent film. We're watching them as they watch a movie (and inversely, as they face the camera, they are watching us) and suddenly the entire construct of this movie seems clear. Point being, after this movie's initial sequence, you know pretty much whether or not you're going to want to keep watching.
Also, there is this awesome moment, which happens out of nowhere which makes it all the more wondrous: