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Holy Motors

Holy Motors

Released 28 September 2012
Director Leos Carax

Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Michel Piccoli, Jeanne Disson, Leos Carax
Writer(s) Leos Carax

Martine Marignac, Albert Prévost, Maurice Tinchant
Origin France, Germany
Running Time 115 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 16

Brilliantly batshit.

Leos Carax (Boy Meets GirlPola X) returns to cinema after a thirteen year hiatus with the wonderfully surreal, Holy Motors. Equal parts beautiful and perverse, the film moves in the same episodic pattern as David Cronenberg’s claustrophobic mess Cosmopolis from earlier this year. A series of vignettes form an odyssey through the streets of a gorgeously eerie Paris which can transform on a whim to somewhere out of this universe entirely. Renowned for his off-kilter cinematic sensibilities, Carax eschews the traditional rules of narrative structure and ends up with a work of weird genius.

He invites us to spend twenty-four hours in the world of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), an enigmatic figure who transcends the real world itself, voyaging through different lives- each one an assignment for a shady clandestine organisation who watch his every move on a movie theatre screen. He drifts through the suburbs and banlieues of Paris in a stretch limousine dressing-room driven by his faithful companion Céline (Edith Scob). Vignettes are presented in a seemingly random order and Carax refuses to hold our hand along the way, letting us piece the story together ourselves. We see Oscar as a beggar, an alien creature in a video game world, monster, father and murderer, among others. Every aspect of this artificial world is constructed and even the talking cars face an existential crisis. Oscar has the power to physically transform himself at will simply by stepping back into the parallel universe of his limo.

Ultimately, this is a film about the art of creating films and there are plenty of cinematic references along the way- Carax gives numerous nods to David Lynch and Gaspar Noé. Featuring elements of horror as a physically grotesque Oscar terrorises a supermodel, drama as he plays a concerned father and even paying homage to the musical during a brief intermezzo in which Kylie Minogue plays Oscar’s jilted ex-lover, each episode is laced with a pervading sense of sadness. During a remarkably poignant scene (in every sense of the word), in which Oscar portrays the dying uncle of a troubled young woman he ‘dies’, apologises and leaves for his next appointment, as does she. It’s a wonderful comic moment; as Carax highlights the constructed nature of it all-but also acutely sad as they lament their farewell with the hope that they may meet again. We’re left unsure as to whether they mean as people or actors.

As they near the end of their voyage, Oscar realises that they haven’t laughed all evening and insists that they must before midnight. When the laugh finally happens it is a despaired one; clinical and forced as he and Céline confront the monotony of their cyclic existence.

Holy Motors is a film that warrants discussion among cineastes and casual film fans alike- in rethinking the world of cinema and our own place within it.

- Cathal Prendergast