“Holy Motors” Review

Eva Mendes and crazed sewer-dweller.

Eva Mendes and crazed sewer-dweller.

Someday I’ll start writing about something other than movies. And maybe someday CJ will start writing posts again, but for now you get what you get.

Anyway, I saw a great movie yesterday, “Holy Motors,” by the French director Leos Carax, who is apparently a lunatic. It’s difficult to describe, but here goes.

Basically, the film follows a character named Mr. Oscar as he is chaffeured around Paris in a massive limo filled with costumes and make-up equipment. Mr. Oscar has a series of what are called “appointments.” For each appointment, he changes his appearance in the back of the limo, and emerges as a different person to go through some kind of scenario or encounter.

In one he’s an old woman who begs on a bridge. In another he’s an assassin who kills another man who looks like him. In another he’s a crazy sewer-dweller who bites off a woman’s fingers, kidnaps Eva Mendes from a photo-shoot, and makes her a burka by using his elongated fingernails as sewing scissors. In another, he’s dressed in a motion-capture suit, does acrobatics, and eventually makes love to a woman in a similar motion-capture suit as their movements are animated onto two snake-monsters.This sounds completely insane, and it is, but it’s also very compelling.

The film-maker also clearly enjoys throwing in a new twist whenever he thinks you might be getting complacent. Mr. Oscar starts to encounter other people in limos who are doing the same thing that he is — with their own various “appointments” — including Kylie Minogue as someone he once was in love with. People die and come back to life. There are two musical interludes. He meets people who appear to be different versions of characters that he has played earlier in the day. At one point, his boss randomly materializes in his limo and upbraids him for his performance. There are chimpanzees involved as well.

It isn’t just a series of insane occurrences, though. Or I guess it is, but there are a lot of interesting questions and themes being explored. The two biggest ones are the nature of performance (for obvious reasons), and the ubiquity of technology, from automobiles to cameras. And Denis Lavant as Mr. Oscar is completely riveting. He’s not solely a chameleon, there is a base character there under all the various personae he takes on.

It all adds up to an ungodly hybrid of Cloud Atlas, Dark City, and Delicatessen that I would highly recommend. Though prepare to have some difficulty making any sense when you’re trying to explain to other people what this movie is about and why it’s so good. It makes me want to watch the other movies this guy has done, many of which also apparently star the same actor. (Check out the trailer I’ve put at the bottom of this post if you still have no idea what I’m talking about. Mind you, it may not help.)

Also, now that I’ve seen a few more films, here is my updated top ten list for 2012. I’ve abandoned my attempt to rank these, so I’ll just list my favorite ten in alphabetical order. (Basically what has happened is that Silver Linings Playbook and, now, Holy Motors, have bumped Batman and Prometheus off the list.)

The Cabin in the Woods

Cloud Atlas

The Hobbit

Holy Motors

The Hunger Games

Lincoln

Moonrise Kingdom

Safety Not Guaranteed

Silver Linings Playbook

Skyfall

Wheeeeeeeee! Movies!