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Old 11-10-2012, 11:09 AM   #1
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Default Holy Motors - Review Thread

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If you laid out the plot to Holy Motors to someone who’s heard nothing about it, chances are there’d be some level of intrigue, but most likely there would be a high amount of trepidation. It’s an incredibly ambitious film, but one that’s surprisingly easy to follow. That is, if you’re able to stick with it for the first 20 minutes. Those aren’t always two things that go together and it’s a welcome sight.

Taking place over the course of a day, Holy Motors follows the exploits of one man (Denis Lavant) as he travels around Paris, “attending” various appointments. These appointments act as little vignettes. This allows for a variety of stories to come to fruition out of a premise that might have become dull and repetitive if it just happened to focus on one rather than the handful that it does. It’s kind of like the anthology effect, much like V/H/S had earlier this year, where even if one segment fails, it had the ability to make up for it right away.

Whether you like any of his appointments or not, there’s one in particular, involving a lot of accordions, that makes for one of my favorite moments in film this year. It comes at a perfect time in the movie, when you’re just getting your footing and understanding as to how the film is working, and then director Leos Carax drops this out of nowhere. You think you’ve seen it all after Lavant licks Eva Mendes’ armpit and leaves a trail of blood and then this happens. Regarding awards buzz, which I think the film will sadly get none of, Lavant deserves it the most. He wears so many hats in the film and it’s truly incredible to see him effortlessly switch from one character to another. He’s at his best in the strong character moments, which present themselves in droves during the segment with his daughter, Angèle (Jeanne Disson).

Not only does he showcase his talent to the highest ability in that segment, but his work with Kylie Minogue is wonderful as well. That segment is breathtakingly good, with Minogue acting her heart out, and it really shows. You’d never think she was a singer first if you didn’t know her beforehand or by her song in the film. That song works even better due to the fact that Minogue is actually singing on set and that it is the version the audience gets to hear, rather than have it go through any kind of heavy post production in able to give it some kind of extra oomph that wouldn’t be necessary.

Whether you love it or hate it, and I can easily see it splitting audiences, Holy Motors is a lot of fun to watch. There’s never a dull moment in this wild picture. Carax does a nice job of dividing high concept parts of the film and intertwining them with easier to digest portions, but in the end they all meet at the same place, and that’s what makes the end product so great. Holy Motors is a difficult film to get you’re head around. At times it’s clear what Carax is doing but at other points it comes across as being a bit disjointed. Whatever shortcomings that the film has to deal with, it doesn’t stop Lavant from giving a fearless performance and one that makes the film worth re-visiting.

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Old 11-17-2012, 01:23 PM   #2
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Where do I start? Holy Motors is quite difficult to summarize, since nothing of substance truly happens during its 115 minute run-time. Through the trailers, it appears to be even more illusive and surreal, something akin to a David Lynch production that is both gritty and straight of a mad genius’ subconscious. But no, it’s something else entirely: it’s cinema’s swan song. Not that cinema itself is dying, but a specific era in time. Like the limousine that’s used during the film, it’s a relic from a bygone era. This is director Leos Carax’s viewpoint from an old-fashioned cinematic perspective, where cinema is actually performed through physical interaction, rather than through CGI and other computer enhanced realities. His other works include the masterpiece The Lovers on the Bridge (1991) (perhaps his most well-known), Mauvais sang (1986) and Pola X (1999), which all carry a very raw, cinematic aesthetic that feel both aged and newly refreshing. Holy Motors is daring, entertaining and flawed.

In Motors, Denis Lavant plays a traveling actor of sorts, named Monsieur Osar who appears to have taken up the torch from traveling entertainers of old—such as minstrels, showman, puppeteers, so on and so forth. He does so by appointment only, and in everyday scenarios, surrounded by innocent bystanders. He is whatever his role requires him to be. All of his costumes and make-up are kept in his limousine, driven by a tight-lipped woman named Celine, played by Edith Scob. Much like stream-of- consciousness thinking, the opening itself uses dream logic, like Lynch. For example, one of Oscar’s many jobs includes a monster who lives in the sewers, who ruins in a photo shoot by abducting Kay M (Eva Mendes). Carax pays obvious tribute to the Beauty and the Beast story. This is but one transformation from Monsieur Lavant. Others include vastly different guises, such as an assassin, beggar and alien sex god (yes, seriously).

Believe me, if it sounds a little out there, it’s because it really is. There’s a lot to like about Holy Motors, but it’s also flawed. When you’re attempting to create something that has no plot structure, no character development (other than mystery) or any sense of a cemented reality, then it’s awfully difficult to keep the audience entertained and guessing. Otherwise, almost inevitably, viewers will zone out. This is a case of the viewer being forced into submitting to the narrative (or non-narrative) framework; it’ll either be an exciting experience, or one that you’ll find not-so-fun.That’s where Motors lies. You’re essentially given some information, then Carax continues to make you work for whatever it is he’s trying to say. This makes it sound like more work than fun, but that’s not necessarily true either. In fact, it’s a lot of fun, but what Monsieur Carax directed was something that doesn’t work all the way through. Emotional attachment is difficult because each “scene” stands alone. Furthermore, with no driving force, we are sort of stranded out in the middle of an unquestionably spotty narrative with nothing to hold onto.

Whether you’re a casual viewer or someone who frequents the cinema, this is one to cherish either way. For older cinema-goers, this will feel like a refreshing return to form for cinema; something that feels (as I said earlier) like a swan song of sorts. It’s deliriously fun and clever. If anything, you’ll find yourself entertained and laughing at the histrionics. I certainly caught myself laughing all throughout, because what I do now, despite all of the heavy symbolism, is that Carax has a sense of humor, one that can’t be left in the dust. Like the surrealism, the humor is just as important. It might be flawed, but it is a worthwhile endeavor for those willing to take the ride in Monsieur Lavant’s beaten up limousine.


Last edited by Justin; 11-22-2012 at 11:18 AM.
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Old 12-16-2012, 03:21 PM   #3
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Holy Motors(12/8/2012)
Not too long ago I read an article (I don’t recall the author or publication) about last year’s award season in which a pop culture analyst said something along the lines of “it’s too bad that the stuffy old Academy keeps overlooking popular movies like Transformers 3 in favor of arty movies like The King’s Speech.” As an experienced film buff I can’t help but laugh when I read stuff like that. It’s hilarious because calling The King’s Speech “arty” is like the cinematic equivalent of calling The Olive Garden a gourmet restaurant. The people who say things like that have more than likely never seen a real “arty” movie, and if they ever did they probably wouldn’t know how to process them. To be fair to that writer, the film culture at large hasn’t done a lot to expose wider audiences to real “art films,” instead every year it creates this moment of buzz where movies like The King’s Speech are held up as the absolute height of sophistication. It’s only when you do watch real “art films” like the new Leos Carax film Holy Motors that you’re reminded just how far from the cutting edge the annual crop of “awards movies” really are.

The film’s main story begins with an old man, who will later be called Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) leaves his home and gets into a limousine which drives off seemingly to take him to work. Then, as the limo heads into Paris he takes a wig and makeup off, revealing that he is in fact younger than he appeared and changes into some old clothes and puts on makeup to make himself look more disheveled than he really is. The limo drops him off at a street corner; he walks about a block, and then starts panhandling on the street. Once this is complete he returns to the limo, changes into a mocap suit, and is dropped off at his next “appointment” where he performs a bunch of acrobatics at a soundstage. Once he’s done with that he returns to the limo, changes into yet another costume and performs yet another one of these elaborate performance art pieces in public and so on and so forth for much of the duration of the film. It’s almost never clear to the audience why he’s doing all of this or who is giving him these “jobs” to do. In fact, as the movie goes on we begin to wonder if the man is even human, and if all the other people in the film are “in” on all the shenanigans.

If that description didn’t make it clear, this movie is pretty “out there.” It’s movie that’s only for the most open minded of film-goers, the kind of people who are open to the many eccentricities of French art films and who aren’t going to freak out at unconventional storytelling and unclear symbolism. However, this is not one of those art-house movies where “nothing happens,” on the contrary, this is a film where (strange) things are almost always happening. In its own peculiar way it’s extremely entertaining. Denis Lavant gives an extremely physical performance in the film which requires him to constantly shift costumes and makeups. The performance is almost reminiscent of silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd in the way that it’s just fun to watch and almost the entire focus of the film. There’s also something very fascinating about the way the film subtly drops hints about how big the operation that the main character in involved in gets.

The film opens with a rather surreal sequence in a movie theater and it also frequently intercuts clips from Eadweard Muybridge zoopraxiscope reels (which are among the first moving picture images of the human form ever created), and this makes it clear that Holy Motors is among the ranks of “films about film.” In fact, many of the main character’s performance art excursions seem to represent various film genres in various off-beat ways. For instance, that early scene in a mocap stage that seems to represent modern effects-driven action films. Elsewhere we see takes on horror films, crime films, musicals, melodramas and everything in-between. The effect is kaleidoscopic, but what does it all mean? Is it some kind of how hard it is on performers to for from identity to identity? Maybe, I don’t know. That’s what’s ultimately going to keep me from fully embracing the film as some kind of classic. I might “get it” more on repeat viewing, but at the moment most of what I like about it is all on a surface level, and maybe that’s how its supposed to be. It’s a film that probably is meant to be experienced rather than analyzed, at least on the first viewing. And what an experience it is.
***1/2 out of Four
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