Holy Motors (2012)

Holy Motors first published by Film4

Film summary: Writer/director Leos Carax (Les amants de pont neuf, Pola X) returns with a melancholic reflection on the dreamhouse of cinema.

Review: A man (writer/director Leos Carax) wakes to find, hidden behind the forest wallpaper of his hotel room, a door leading to a packed nocturnal cinema. What follows, whether it takes place on the cinema’s screen or in the theatre of the man’s still dreaming mind, is a surreal odyssey in which, over one long day and night, Monsieur Oscar (a sublimely versatile Dennis Lavant) travels in a white stretch limousine to his various ‘appointments’, donning a different guise – banker, female beggar, mo-cap performer, bestial monster, killer/victim, father, bandleader, anarchist, old man at death’s door – for familiar-seeming scenarios scripted and staged before unseen cameras and an unknown audience. 

In fact the second film of 2012 (after Cosmopolis) to be set mostly in the back of a limousine, Holy Motors presents us with an everyman always in motion, not just because of the vehicular transport speeding him from scene to scene and genre to genre, but also because of his own postmodern, Protean nature. With the lines constantly blurring between where performance ends and reality begins, Carax’s digitally shot movie is a hall of mirrors, built from the recognisable images and ideas of films past (including Edith Scob reprising her masked rôle from 1960’s Eyes Without A Face), while driving forward into an uncertain future for the traditional machinery of cinema, ever at risk of being stored away in the dark. By turns bizarre, moving, funny and melancholic, Holy Motors is a meditation on movies, mutability and mortality, in which all the world is a screen, and we are each of us merely players.        

Verdict: Carax’s ‘road movie’ celebrates and laments the adaptability of both cinema and humanity, finding a strange beauty in every act.  

© Anton Bitel