Holy Motors

Lynchian weirdness, an impish man, and Kylie Minogue remind us of the thrilling possibilities of cinema.
Rima Sabina Aouf
Published on August 20, 2012


"If you don't see it, you're mainstream." Blerg. Don't let the tagline from this cringe-inducing local promo campaign divert you from seeing the wondrously singular Holy Motors, which has been gathering such rapturous/bemused word-of-mouth as to render even good advertising redundant. After its premiere in competition at Cannes, June's Sydney Film Festival rushed to add Holy Motors to its scheduled programme. August's Melbourne International Film Festival ran a retrospective of the works of its director, Leos Carax, a slim oeuvre comprising five feature films over 28 years, the high point of which was 1991's Lovers on the Bridge, starring a young Juliette Binoche.

In Holy Motors Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) is driven around Paris to a series of appointments, each its own separate setpiece. Applying elaborate costume before stepping out of his limousine-cum-dressing room, he becomes a dowager's-humped old woman begging in the street, a thuggish hit man sent after his own doppelganger, and an odd little troll who emerges from the underground to crash a fashion shoot, among other transformations. Why is he employed to do any of these things? Who could possibly be a client or beneficiary of this bizarre service? Some hints of the superstructure that explains his existence appear, but they're just that: hints. What matters to Holy Motors is the condition of human beings within the world it has invented, and the loose poetry it spins on the performative aspects of our contemporary lives.

Weirdness affected for weirdness's sake can get tired fast. But Holy Motors' kooky anti-narrative isn't for the hell of it, and it definitely isn't boring. There's a two-step test it passed to justify its rampant weirdness to me: First, it threw up utter beauty, often. I can't let go of the image of two improbably agile motion-capture-suited artists meeting for an erotic dance in the dark, of a naked and aroused imp posing for a Rococo tableau with a chartreuse-silk-wrapped Eva Mendes. Second, you might not know exactly what's going on, but you have the sense that Carax does (although he and his stars are being notoriously tight-lipped). That feeling of a fantasy world following its internal logic keeps incredulity at bay. It means when Kylie Minogue appears to sing a melancholy ballad, you go with it.

See Holy Motors. See it see it see it see it. Relent and go down the rabbit hole. Holy Motors won't save you from the mainstream, but it will remind you of the sheer possibilities of cinema and the pulchritude we've yet to dream up. And if you're thinking that all sounds like Holy Motors is too hepped up on its own self-importance, rest assured, there are talking cars that will dispel any chance of that.


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