HOLY MOTORS: Icon Films. Out August 23rd., 2012. Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, and Kylie Minogue. Directed by Leos Carax. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong sexualised images, nudity and violence). 116 min.
This is a sub-titled French film that competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and was the surprise loser to Michael Haneke’s “Amour” (yet to be released in Australia). It generated a huge reaction at the festival. It is about a man, Monsieur Oscar, who leaves home, and journeys within a single day from one identity to another. He is a hunched-back beggar woman, half man-half beast, a cathedral accordion player, a forlorn lover, and a killer-assassin.
Oscar (Denis Lavant) uses a white stretch-limousine as a changing-room, and is accompanied by Celine (Edith Scob), his female chauffeur. He goes to nine separate appointments, and for each appointment he changes in the car to emerge as a different person. The film is essentially a series of vignettes, in which Denis Lavant as Oscar plays a variety of parts. He prepares for each by reading a dossier left for him (by someone - or maybe some “agency” that arranges it all) in the back of his car.
The film is hard to categorise. Taken as a whole, it offers a commentary on identity and personae, on how we all take on a different face to meet the people we meet and adopt different versions of ourselves from one situation to the next. As the film progresses, however, it becomes increasingly autobiographical for the Director of the movie, Leos Carax. A young child deceiving her father (who is Oscar) could well be his own, and the film canvases brilliantly the themes of ageing, regret, lost love, fear of mortality, and the impossibility of re-visiting the lives we have led, all of which are themes that have preoccupied Carax during his life, and are used in his films. The movie points Carax inexorably, as Oscar expresses it, “towards the point of no return”. The film might simply be a bravura exercise in imagination, but one suspects that such is not the case. Either way, the film has phenomenal impact. It is a creative collection of ideas, visual images, and personal reflections that linger exhilaratingly.
The film bridges fantasy and reality many times. Even the asynchrony of its sound-track with the words that appear beneath the screen may be an intentional ploy by Carax not to distract you from what he is showing you. The film is full of surreal scenes that are amazing to watch, and it canvasses almost every conceivable human emotion. The opening scenes, for instance, show a man, who discovers a secret door in his bedroom, papered with forest trees. He opens the door to find himself in a balcony overlooking a theatre stage. The audience is staring blankly at an unseen movie, which is this one. Even more bizarre scenes follow. In one scene, a leprechaun-figure in a green suit emerges from a sewer in Paris where tombstones in a cemetery invite people to visit websites. The figure starts to eat the flowers on the graves, before he abducts a model (Eva Mendes), and takes her beneath the city. There, he dresses her in a Burka, disrobes himself, and she comforts his aroused body.
This is a movie that is boldly captivating and compelling. It plays disturbingly on the mind of the viewer, and captures brilliantly the possibilities of cinema in ways that are well beyond conventional interpretation of the medium. The movie is full of surprises and dark humour, and it is impossible to predict one scene from the next. The experimental nature of the film pushes Carax to take risks that are incredibly imaginative. The movie ends with white stretch-limousines, housed in a building called “Holy Motors”, talking to each other. In the mean-time, Oscar has returned home to his wife and children (his final, ninth appointment). It isn’t the home he left, however, and his family are all monkeys.
Kylie Minogue plays a woman, who suicides. She is an air hostess who has lost her love, and she sings a song of loss in a derelict department store. The song was co-written by Carax, who was emotionally involved with a Russian actress, Yetkaterina Golubeva, who reportedly took her own life. Minogue’s performance is terrific.
Made seriously for those who love cinema, this film expresses the fertile, personal imagination of a genius at work.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out August 23rd. 2012.