Friday, November 2, 2012


It's easy to call any kind of "non-traditional" film without some kind of a straight forward plot; surreal or strange (which could both easily describe Leos Carax's long anticipated return; Holy Motors). Just read a lot of my recent reviews and you'll see even I get caught up in that. But with recent works like; Post Tenebras Lux, To The Wonder, Uncle Boonmee & The Tree Of Life, I feel terms like dreamy & surreal are getting played out. The aforementioned films play more in to the stream of conscious genre and look like live-action sketchbooks - ideas that aren't necessarily finished or complete but still look beautiful, has some kind of depth or story behind it, shows talent and possibly contains something personal about the creator that's too good to be kept under wraps no matter how incomplete it may be. Like I said, there's a reason old sketchbooks of famous artists, cartoonists, designers & architects are rare collector's items. Leos Carax's Holy Motors is the perfect example of a sketchbook/stream of consciousness film. Half of Holy Motors' inspiration/influence comes from an unfinished idea (Carax's real life attempt at trying to make a big budget, English-speaking film that never panned out as well as his experiences working with non-French movie studios). The other half of Holy Motors' inspiration comes from inside Leos Carax's very own head - the random thoughts, books & films that circulate inside his mind. Holy Motors is another "movie mixtape" in the same vein as Pulp Fiction, Irma Vep, The Player, Europa & Drive (although not as straight forward) with references to everything from Eyes Without a Face (the film features Eyes Without A Face co-star; Edith Scob) to Carax's very own work from back in the day (Holy Motors makes reference to Mauvais Sang, The Lovers On The Bridge & his 2008 short Merde from the collaborative feature length film Tokyo)...

Holy Motors (2012)                                                                  Eyes Without A Face (1960)
Holy Motors                                                                                       Tokyo (2008)
Not to toot my own horn but the sketchbook analogy makes perfect sense as Holy Motors plays out like a series of comedic sketches instead of one cohesive film (which isn't a negative jab at all). The film's only consistent element comes in the form of long time Carax collaborator; Denis Lavant and Edith Scob who plays his limo driver. Carax & Lavant are one of the few long lasting director/actor combos that still manage to put out great work and kinda keep that spirit of Godard & Belmondo alive. In the film, which takes place over a 24 hour period, Lavant plays "Mr. Oscar" - some kind of a performer/actor who's hired by a nameless company to act out various scenarios throughout the streets of Paris. He gets from one location to the next in a stretch limousine that contains all his different disguises & costumes. In one scenario we see Oscar play a homeless lady begging for change on the street. In another scenario Oscar plays the infamous Godzilla-influenced "Merde" monster that wreaks havoc throughout Paris and kidnaps a super model (played by Eva Mendes). In between, he plays everything from a man that's married to a chimp to an assassin. The film is part musical (featuring a musical number from Kylie Minogue), part dark comedy and part fantasy. To best describe Holy Motors' style, imagine the randomness & humor of Soderbergh's Schizopolis, mixed with Kids In The Hall's Brain Candy with a touch of Luis Bunuel (specifically the sketch style of The Phantom Of Liberty) yet told in Leos Carax's own signature random/"off"/dry style that can't really be found anywhere else these days. The majority of the 8 scenarios in the film feel like comments on cinema today (the use of special effects, violence on film, phasing out the old and in with the new, etc). Not to sound so cliché but this really is a breath of fresh air in 2012 – an intelligent film that doesn’t take itself too seriously at the same time. Holy Motor's can honestly be enjoyed by the biggest of movie snobs who love a lot of the names I've already dropped (Bunuel, Malick, Godard, etc) to fans of The Cartoon Network's late night TV programming. Sure Holy Motors tips its hat to films & literature that everyone may not get, in the same vein as Assayas did with Irma Vep, but it doesn’t take away from the film (although it wouldn’t hurt to get familiar with Carax’s filmography before watching Holy Motors).

Edith Scob's presence isn't the films' only connection to the older generation of cinema. Michel Piccoli, who appeared in Carax's Mauvais Sang, makes a cameo in the middle of the film as well. Carax's use of Scob & Piccoli is similar to Von Trier's use of Udo Kier, Barbara Sukowa & Eddie Constantine in Europa (an homage to Rainer Werner Fassbinder) or Tarrantino's use of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (a reference to his cult status due to movies like Grease & Saturday Night Fever as well as an homage to Blowout & Depalma).

Michel Piccoli in Carax's Holy Motors (L) & Mauvais Sang (R)
And Denis Lavant really does deserve some kind of a lifetime achievement award for his performance in Holy Motors just for the simple fact that he's over 50 years old and still managed to pull off the same physically demanding performance that he gave in Carax's mid-80's work. Lavant manages to make the audience laugh without much effort. His acting is a combination of comedic genius mixed with great dramatic acting. Given that Carax & Lavant's careers are pretty much synonymous with each other, Holy Motors is just as personal to Lavant. Along with The Avengers & Seven Psychopaths, Holy Motors is the most fun I've had at the movies all year (this says a lot because I'm usually uncomfortable while sitting in the film forum due to my height). I was laughing out loud and scratching my head at the same time. Its yet another recent film that breaks the mold and dispels the misconception that "art house" films can't be great and silly at the same time (Dogtooth, ALPS, Attenberg, Spring Breakers, etc). There's nothing worse than waiting for a great director to return after a 10+ year hiatus with a disappointment (Lynne Ramsay/We Need To Talk About Kevin, Monte Hellman/Road To Nowhere, etc) and thankfully Leos Carax delivered with a film that'll probably end up in my top five at the end of the year. It's clear from Carax's past as a film critic for Cahier Du Cinema and his obvious French new wave references all throughout his early work that he's a lover of film first and a filmmaker second. What sets the "dreaminess" of Holy Motors apart from the rest of the films I've unofficially grouped it in with is that it isn't light, airy, droning, drawn out or other typical qualities you'd expect from a film that plays out like a dream. Holy Motors is more like a traditional silly comedy hidden inside of an art house movie.


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