Holy Motors is the best film I have seen in a loooong time. I mean, I am already a huge fan of Leos Carax, a director following in a very French tradition of cutting edge cinema- right down to the close work/growth with one actor Godard:Belmondo :: Carax:Lavant, the embracing of non-traditional storytelling, and even a post-post modern style of cyclical editing, technological innovation, and in camera manipulation that feels like a contemporary take on the purpose of the French New Wave jump cut. Its taken me awhile to try to figure out how to explain why this film is such a defining cinematic masterpiece but I am going to try, (breathes in, holds breath, pauses, exhales)...let's go...!
The main character, Monsieur Oscar (a writhing, tough Denis Levant whose work as a circus performer informs his ability to morph and move throughout the film in a fluid acting experience- it's like you are watching him float or ooze through the scenes- through space, through time- with such ease and wonder in a way that most actors only dream of being able to accomplish) is an actor who spends his days being driven around in a limo attending "appointments" or roles, changing into a new being with each encounter within his hulking moving dressing room on wheels, with a composed, caring, wry Edith Scob at the wheel.
Is Oscar merely an actor performing for unseen cameras & silent audiences (a probability reinforced through the opening sequence of a man entering a secret door where he finds a zombie film audience entranced by King Vidor as a [digitally rendered!] dog & baby wander the movie theater aisles ignored, further complicating the duality/dynamic of reality & unreality, fiction & nonfiction)? Or is Oscar playing out actual lives, parallel people he is or pretends to be? Are we all just really multiple people? Has the reality media craze and our own diminishing standards blurred the lines between real & fake, good & bad (the rotting sugar of low culture hinted at through the films own use of genre "films" - cheesy musicals, thug capers, melodramas- Oscar appears in throughout Motors)? The ambiguity surrounding Oscar's characters is so densely layered, who does the audience identify with? Who do we want to be? Holy Motors poses all of these questions instantly- questioning the entire filmic medium, questioning the audience's motivations- making me trapped in this amazing state of awe and contemplation at not only the thing being projected before my eyes but the very nature of cultural expectations as a whole! AMAZING!
2. Holy Motors is a film that uses digital cinema and special effects as an artform.
Yes, yes, we can make dragons with computers and put them in movies now, ok. But, you know what is better? Manipulating digital effects to create lush strokes of moving scenes, using digital animation to expose the hand or human behind it, adding digital effects as a paintbrush to sweep together compositions that rival masterful painting, creating believable backdrops for tragedy without the need for actual harm, all while commenting on the falsity of our technological surroundings. Even though Carax is sometimes criticized for his sort of bloated budgets, he is using contemporary cinematic resources on a whole new level, creating his own language of art that should be funded no matter what the box office loss! This man is a true artist, a nouveau auteur! LOVE!
3. (Mild Spoiler Alert but not really given the meandering nature of the film) There are three defining scenes in this film that made it one of the most memorable movie going experiences I have ever had.
a. Eva Mendes appears as a model who is kidnapped by a leprachaun-esque hobo character named Merde (French for shit btw. Yup. Shit). Merde fashions Mendes' model gown into a Burqa of sorts, a staunchly political statement given France's recent Burqa ban. But here, the statement is two fold: are we watching Levant as Merde the Hobo acting on behalf of some unseen director (of the film within the film or is he possible working out the plan of some divine director, maybe even God himself?), or is this character trying to subvert a political statement on his own accord? There is a duality here about cultural expectations vs. responsibility, fate vs. free will, the book vs. the cover, the actor vs. the acted, that is so subtly perfect...layer upon layer, frame upon frame of filmic dissection! JUST MIND BLOWING!
b. At Oscar's last role he arrives to his suburban condo on a quiet family street. His family is a bunch of chimpanzees. Have our standards of entertainment plummeted this far? Are we devolving as a culture? Are we no better than Kubrick's apes beating our chests at the new monoliths of media & technology around us? SERIOUSLY SO DENSE!
c. The film winds down with the limos of all of the actors parking in a lot called Holy Motors suggesting that maybe these limos are Heaven-sent vessels meant to transport existence yet even the limos discuss (YES THERE ARE TALKING CARS! OMG!) their own futility as machines...and in turn machines of (ill) fate(d man).