Holy Motors (Leos Carax) ★★★★

Holy Motors, Leos Carax’s first film in 13 years, will leave a lot of people stumped. Its surrealist madness and unchained narrative makes you wonder what’s coming next, an unsettling feeling for your average cinema-goer. But somehow, Carax creates a kind of poignancy in every character he introduces us to, and his manifesto becomes intensely life-affirming.

Starting as it means to go on, the film begins with a dream sequence, where the film’s star Denis Levant (a longtime collaborator with Carax) breaks through his bedroom wall into a cinema where the audience are asleep. When he wakes up, he begins his day as ‘Monsieur Oscar’, a man who’s work consists of being driven around Paris in a white stretch limo and going to ‘appointments’, where he must act out different characters for a brief period of time.

For much of the film it is not made clear why he is doing this, and to what end. Many of the character transformations involve donning prosthetics (an old beggar woman), ageing skin (a dying man), or strange facial hair (the grotesque ‘Monsieur Merde’). He wears a black catsuit as a motion captured acrobat, becomes father to a family of monkeys, dies twice (not spoiling it for you here) as well as the long lost lover of Kylie Minogue.

So who is he really? That’s one thing Carax doesn’t seem to want us to know. For him, identity is a prison, and film is an opportunity to escape it. His main speech concerns creating moments of beauty, whether that be through watching death to reaffirm the sensation of life, or through shedding light on some of society’s liminal characters.

As in his 1991 film Les Amants du Pont Neuf, Carax shows an interest in the eye as a channel to the soul, as well as musical interludes to aid the emotional journey he takes us on. Carax also shows a nostalgia for the medium of film, and includes a plethora of literary and filmic references, to the delight of critics everywhere. This affecting combination reminds us that Carax is still one of France’s genius eccentrics, an ‘enfant terrible’ of cinema.

If for no other reason than intrigue, you won’t want to miss this mad little gem.

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One thought on “Holy Motors (Leos Carax) ★★★★

  1. I watched this with out any real prejudice as I really knew nothing of the film before it. My problem with it and films like this is “heart vs head”. I would place this very much in the head film mold and there is my problem. When ever i sit to watch a film i expect it to affect me emotionally and then through that emotional connection to raise any intellectual questions after that. This didn’t engage me emotionally from the start and left me as an audience member distant from the film. The one sequence that I did feel a connection with was the Father & Daughter sequence in the car, but by then the rest of the film had left me cold. Another problem I have with this type of cine-literate film is the need to understand all references and nods it makes. I’m sure I missed more than I got but seeing Minogue’s costume and makeup reference Jean Seberg in A Bout de Souffle was annoying. A film should work on its own terms and not require an understanding of the intertextual references it is making to understand what the film is trying to say.

    I guess my specific problem with this film is reflected in the opening sequence where Carax himself walks through a cinema full of audience watching an unknown film. Have you ever turned round in your seat during a film? You can see all the audiences’ faces reflected in the light of the screen, in this sequence all the audience was dark and faceless and ultimately I think that says it all about how he views us.

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