Holy Motors - Cinema Review

'thrives on presenting scenes of unexpected left turns into slices of madness reserved for the insane... wholly satisfying... one of the films of the year'

Every so often, once or twice a year, a film comes along which people hail as 'different'. Perhaps it's experimental in its subject matter, obtuse in its form, downright bonkers in its inception. It very rarely actually plays out as such, disappointing those who have shown up expecting something new and exciting, alienating the mainstream, becoming known as, well, a bit average.

This year it feels like Holy Motors is that film, with one notable, significant, difference. Holy Motors is actually very good.

It is also 'different', experimental, totally original and wholly unexpected. It makes a mockery of conventional genres, it ignores established rules of narrative cinema and it thrives on presenting scenes of unexpected left turns into slices of madness reserved for the insane. It is wholly satisfying, despite all of these departures, eminently involving and perfectly presented. It is, simply, one of the films of the year, an experience not to miss.

What is the plot? A question still on everyone's lips, including those who have seen it. Somewhere at the core is Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), who starts the film by leaving his lavish house, entering his equally lavish limousine and being told by his driver (Edith Scob) that he has nine appointments to keep during the day.

What transpires after that is anyone's guess but, for me, Holy Motors from here on out is an attempt by director Leos Carax to dramatise and mythologise the life of an actor. Lavant moves from 'appointment' to appointment, hidden in his luxury vehicle, each time changing his identity, becoming someone new. At one he is a motion capture artist, at another a father, returning his child home after a party. He is believable and believed in each, by the people he interacts with and by us as viewers, referenced in the opening moments when we are faced, on-screen, by ourselves, staring into the dark of the cinema. Carax seems to directly invoke the fact that Holy Motors is, in and of itself, concerned with cinema, developing this to a focus on acting, as Lavant establishes various fake relationships, losing his own personality, getting further and further away from personal connections. It plays as both celebration and denigration of the profession, singling acting out as a kind of purgatory for wilful souls, not without occasional joys, Lavant himself admitting to a shadowy superior that he 'enjoys the performance'.

There is too, clearly, something here concerned with religion and the status and input of a higher power, seemingly confirmed by a late reveal, an odd scene, even when placed above the rest of the oddness. How much input does this higher power have on our lives? Is its place changing? Who or what is it really? As with the rest of the film, Carax is more concerned with placing questions than answering them.

If there are problems here then they are slight. Performers appear and do well but all save Lavant are given very short shrift. Eva Mendes is terrific in a largely silent role, ditto Elise Lhomeau, whose tenderness and melancholy are touching in a scene which - no surprise - takes an unexpected turn at its conclusion. In another jarring twist, Kylie Minogue shows up with a musical number, not entirely in-keeping with the tone set earlier for accompaniment, when Lavant parades around a church with an orchestra of accordionists.

These though feel slight quibbles in a film not wanting for soaring moments of original brilliance. Currently film of the year, with some distance to go if anything else is going to make up the ground.

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