REVIEW: Holy Motors

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Holy Motors
Directed by: Leos Carax
Written by: Leos Carax (screenplay)
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue

Leos Carax claims that Holy Motors emerged partly out of his rage not to be able to make all of the films he wanted.  It is not so much about cinema, he said, but that it speaks the language of cinema.  It is a weird, volatile piece of work to be sure, and it pays tribute to various genres while tearing down the conventions that hold them together in the process.

At every twist and turn of Holy Motors’ story we are made aware of the artifice present in the making of any fictional film.  It tells the story of a man named Oscar (Denis Lavant) who over the course of a day rides from appointment to appointment in his white limo and becomes a different character in a different movie at each one.  Weirdly, it has the same storytelling device as its fellow Cannes competitor Cosmopolis, even down to the white limo.

That is largely where comparisons end, though.  Carax creates a much more formally experimental work; he revels in using the limo as a transitional device between cinematic worlds instead of as a kind of shield from the outside as in Cosmopolis.  Whether his main character is disguised as a grotesque redhead violently interrupting an artistic photo shoot and kidnapping Eva Mendes (you read that correctly) or giving an inspired, sexual stop-motion animation performance in an empty studio, he transitions between very different segments with reckless abandon.

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Lavant gives nearly a dozen spirited performances as the main characters, and the movie would have been a disaster without a lead who could give himself wholeheartedly to such a bizarre artistic vision.  Holy Motors begins in a theater, with shots of an audience staring directly out at the audience watching the movie.  This of course makes the movie even more of a meta exercise.  It is made with such sincerity and formal ingenuity, though, that it becomes an exciting cinematic tribute rather than unbearably pretentious.

Like Carax said, he uses genre not simply as a gimmick like in The Artist, but as a means to open up a science fiction narrative.  That it pays tribute to the vast and varied genres of its art form is somewhat of a consolation prize.  Few movies in recent memory have such a pure, uninhibited understanding of cinematic language, and even if I wasn’t completely on board with all of its many worlds, it is a movie to exalt in a world of so many disastrous,  unimaginative blockbusters.

Grade: B

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