[Review] – Holy Motors

1 Nov

Title: Holy Motors
Year: 2012
Director: Leos Carax
Writer: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Édith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 115 min
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Metacritic: 84

Pola X is, with good reason, one hell of a controversial piece of filmmaking, but it’s also one of those pieces of work that you should really try to see at least once in your life. It’s the 1999 work of experimental, boundary-pushing French director Leos Carax who, since then, had not directed a feature film (he made one of the three segments seen in Tokyo! in 2008, though). Well, we’ve now finally gotten a new film that’s all from him, the brilliant Holy Motors which premiered at Cannes earlier this year and definitely stands as one of the best films of 2012.

It’s, unsurprisingly, a strange movie that we get from Mr. Carax here. The main character is Monsieur Oscar, played by Denis Lavant, the director’s frequent collaborator and the man the role was specifically written for, and I would normally try to detail the plot of the movie or try and get you to somewhat understand what film to expect here, but this defies any kind of explanation or expectation. It deals up a narrative that’s so mysterious and weird and screwed up and intentionally challenging to really follow and it makes it all work like gangbusters because of Mr. Carax who will just have you drooling over the visual stuff he offers up and because the story will always remain absolutely compelling, even if you’re not understanding it all that well.

Holy Motors is the reason why you go to the movies in the first place, you go to see stuff that’s rare and original, to see something beautiful and crazy like this right here, a film that’s about films, about love, about the human condition. I loved the hell out of this film, but if you told me you absolutely couldn’t stand it then I would understand that quite easily; this is the kind of film that if it hasn’t gotten you after 10 minutes then you won’t like it. It got me, it got me fast and it never let go, so I’m feeling very positive about it, but even if you’re not, even if you hated this film, you still have to admit you haven’t seen anything quite like this before.

I don’t really know exactly where to begin here because there’s just so much to say, because this film defies classification and because it’s such a massive and expansive visionary work. There were times when it literally took my breath away, I guess that’s a good place to begin, and it really got me thinking about the power of movies. Sometimes people ask you what film of a specific year would you save if all others were to be burned or something like that, a question that’s totally different than what’s your own personal favorite. Last year that film for me was The Tree of Life, which was 6th on my actual year-best list, this year I’m pretty sure it’ll be Holy Motors.

I honestly hope that’s enough from me to at least get you interested to check out this film, because if you want me to explain what the hell it’s about then you won’t get much. At parts it’s melodramatic, then you get sci-fi stuff followed by a musically charged romance and then it morphs into an action film. You honestly get all of that here, and it somehow blends perfectly and works tremendously. I haven’t seen a film that so gorgeously messed with my brain probably since Mulholland Drive, and that’s the biggest compliment I can give this film.

Another reason why I don’t want to get into specifics about the thrilling ride that is Holy Motors, other than the fact that I wouldn’t really know how to explain it all, is that what makes this movie so good and so fun is just that: you never know what’s coming your way next. Plus, what this film is “about”, I think, is actually besides the point. It’s a film that you just have to experience, to see the weirdness and get into the visual gorgeousness and the emotions that come with it and trying to discover your own answer to the riddle that is this movie.

Monsieur Oscar is an amazing creation, this weird man who we follow for a day and we see him transform from one character to another, jumping from one “reality” to another, if you will, seamlessly, and if these different episodes or scenes he’s in don’t have much narrative connective tissue between them that’s totally by design, they relate to each other by more abstract elements. Denis Lavant is amazing at playing this character that’s playing a dozen characters in so many wildly different events, it’s like ten mini-movies all into one. Eva Mendes also appears here as a supermodel and Kylie Minogue pops up for an awesome musical number. You see? How could you anticipate that, it’s all too awesome.

I’m so spellbound by this experience. We obviously have auteurs nowadays doing some amazing things with their films and doing them by their own set of rules, but what Mr. Carax does here makes some of them look like totally commercial directors. He’s just let loose in Paris and he’ll grab you by the throat and start taking you places, places that you won’t be able to anticipate and places that will leave you enthralled or a bit indifferent towards them. The thing is, he’s always taking you to new places, showing you new things that have a defined mood and visual style and are the work of a true artist. As a film lover you can’t ask for much more.

This is what cinema is all about. It’s strange, it’s gorgeous, it’s hypnotic, it’s alive, it’s defiant, it’s a dream. This film is one that reinvents itself as it’s going, that even if it doesn’t have a definable narrative structure still feels as a whole, tied together by a mood and the emotions it elicits, that has these visually entrancing scenes and that will no doubt stand as one of the year’s very best movies when it’s all said and done. I know Mr. Carax switched from film to digital in order to stay within budget he had for this (something he hated to have to do) and I know this is a man that’s only made a handful of films in a career that’s spanned almost three decades, but with Holy Motors, just because of the sheer imagination on display, I can’t help but feel like he just took a great step to keep cinema, the true art form as a means to express oneself, so beautifully alive.

Grade: A+


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