This Is Not a Review of 'Holy Motors'

This Is Not a Review of 'Holy Motors'

Sep 23, 2012

Holy Motors is currently screening at the 2012 Fantastic Fest film festival. Here's the rest of our Fantastic Fest coverage.

This is not a review of Holy Motors.

This is not a review of Holy Motors because Holy Motors is not the kind of film that is watched, discussed or written about with ease -- you don't watch it as much as you get lost in it and you don't review it as much as you struggle to come to grips with it. However, for a film that's challenging in every sense of the word, it's also an effortless, brisk and hugely entertaining viewing experience. An intellectually stimulating, non-narrative art piece that also feels like everyone's new favorite wacky midnight movie. It's like eating your cinematic vegetables and they taste like candy.

Writer-director Leos Carax has somehow managed to make a movie that simultaneously exists as gleefully entertaining nonsense and a moving meditation on the artistic process. The fact that Holy Motors can be enjoyed by some purely as a series of strange non sequiturs and by others as a profound journey with dozens of potential meanings speaks to Carax's skill behind the camera. He's a magician; he loves that you're going to "ooh" and "aah" at his tricks, but he leaves the door open to his process if you're prepared to delve deeper and see what he's really getting at.

On the surface, Holy Motors tracks a day in the life of an unnamed man (Denis Lavant) who is shuttled across Paris in a white limousine to various appointments. Each "appointment" finds him transforming into a new character (his limo is also his dressing room) and engaging in various situations, some mundane and some absurd. He becomes a concerned father, a motion-capture performer, a beggar woman, a psychotic madman and many more. Each appointment is seemingly unconnected to the others and each feels completely different, shifting genre and tone as each of his "performances" requires. Expect to gasp, laugh, wince, wipe away tears and do pretty much everything else you tend to do at the movies.

Never pausing to explain what's going on or hold your hand, Holy Motors is like every movie you've ever seen rolled into one -- a cinematic dreamscape that feels like it was compiled from your strangest dreams and your most unsettling nightmares. Like a dream, the laws of the natural world don't apply here and it feels only natural that murder, suicide and hilarious maimings coexist with sci-fi motion-capture dance routines, absurd sight gags and the single greatest impromptu accordion performance you'll ever see (it may be the most joyous thing to happen on a movie screen in 2012). Unhindered by plot, Holy Motors goes where Caraz wants it to go and Lavant, effortlessly inhabiting nearly a dozen unique personalities, doesn't so much give the best performance of the year as much as he gives an all-time great performance. It's fearless work, a perfect example of an actor bravely closing his eyes and falling backwards while his director catches him and makes it look easy.

This may sound like it's becoming a review of Holy Motors, but it's not. This is where the easy descriptions come to an end and the black hole of ideas and concepts and images that is the actual movie come into play. There is so much going on here that it's impossible to say that anyone's reading of the film is incorrect. Like so much of the greatest fine art, Holy Motors feels like it can be anything to anyone. Whether its a disturbing and repulsive experience or the most uplifting and energetic two hours you'll ever spend is going to be entirely up to you and neither is the wrong answer.

Is Holy Motors an examination of our lives as stories, showcasing how we are the main characters in our own personal films and we play our specific roles like perfectly cast actors? 

Maybe Holy Motors is a tribute to performers, a surreal metaphor for the acting process and how discovering emotional truth for a living is an exhausting and emotional experience.

Then again, our unnamed hero could be a representation of the cosmic and/or divine forces that govern our very existence, entering our lives at a secretly booked time and irrevocably changing our lives. What is a life-altering event if not your own personal plot twist, scripted by the universe and performed by heaven-sent thespians?

And these are the half-baked thoughts of one simple writer following a single screening of the film (and this is completely ignoring the numerous subtle and not-so-subtle references that suggest the entire film is a "eulogy" for cinema itself). Asking anyone to review Holy Motors a day or two after they've seen it once is unfair. Ask them again in a year, after they've had time to revisit it and think it over. Holy Motors may cloak its ideas in mystery and metaphor but it's such a good time that return visits will be completely painless.

This is not a review of Holy Motors. It is merely the first musings on what is going to be one of the most talked-about movies in recent memory.

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