Holy Motors is the latest hallucination from director Leox Carax. And mon dieu, it's a doozy.
More than a decade has elapsed since the French auteurist last regaled--or bedeviled--us with a feature film. Now the creator of such titles as Pola X, The Lovers on the Bridge and Bad Blood has come back with a science fiction so rangy and lycergic, it curdles into a mash of surrealism and Comic Con.
Carax alter ego Denis Lavant is Monsieur Oscar, who first appears as a senior banker embarking on a packed day of meetings in his white limo (as seen in photos 1 - 2). Chauffeured by his assistant Céline (Edith Scob from Georges Franju's meditation on altered guises Eyes Without a Face), Oscar should win an Oscar for the myriad roles he will enact over the ensuing shift. (No surprise that Oscar is Carax's middle name, which together with his first name Alex yields the anagram "Leos Carax.")
For each rendezvous, on comes the wig, the maquillage, the get-out and the body language to effect a complete transformation. Now he's an old beggar hag out of a Grimms fairy tale; now, the randy beast to Eva Mendes's top-model beauty (resurrecting Carax's "Merde" vignette for the 2008 film Tokyo!); and now, a father chastising his daughter for her clumsy social skills (as seen in photos 3 - 4).
Blood will gush when Oscar plays an assassin dispatching his döppelganger--and several times more till Kylie Minogue jumps to her doom from an abandoned luxury hotel in a scene that trades richly on Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady.
Dread is rarely far from the edges of Oscar's fever dream, and yet a motion-capturesequence starring red-clad contortionist Reda Oumouzoune must go down in cinema history as a climax of erotic inspiration. That is, until the dancing deities Frankenstein into CGI cyphers out of a superhero game franchise.
Shifting the revelry from the eyes to the ears, a sequence with a roving accordion band puts the filmed poetry to music. How smoothly the nonsensical goes down when unequivocally pleasing to the senses.
Not since sexscapade Eating Raul has a protagonist performed so many fantasies. But the question is, Whose? Carax keeps us guessing (as seen in photo 5). Lacking a clear master or motive, shape shifter Oscar embraces each faux experience with the commitment that Gregor Samsa might have shown as a gigantic insect.
"Holy Mot..s"--holy "words"--is all that's left of a decrepit "Holy Motors" store sign towards the end, but whether Carax is tossing a waive to les belle lettres or signalling entropy is an invitation to continue head-scratching.
It's deeper down the rabbit hole as a warehouse of talking limos animate the final frames. Their chorus of gripes swell the mix, rueing the march of dubious progress that threatens to turn such old world chariots of real action into their own hearsts.
Having taxied us across the chief rites of human life, Carax/Oscar revs our nostalgia for a time when not all of experience was powered by the unholy motors of virtual technology.
Photo 1 Edith Scob as Céline in Léos Carax’s “Holy Motors.” Photo courtesy of Indomina Releasing.
Photo 2 Denis Lavant as Monsieur Oscar in Léos Carax’s “Holy Motors.” Photo courtesy of Indomina Releasing.
Photo 3 Eva Mendes as Kay M. with Denis Lavant as Monsieur Oscar in Léos Carax’s “Holy Motors.” Photo courtesy of Indomina Releasing.
Photo 4 Denis Lavant’s Monsieur Oscar Morphs in Léos Carax’s “Holy Motors.” Photo courtesy of Indomina Releasing.
Photo 5 Photo of “Holy Motors” director Léos Carax courtesy of Indomina Releasing.
A version of this article was previously published at filmfestivaltraveler.com and jccgreenwich.org