Urban Cinefile
"The film sentence is very different from the prose sentence "  -Anthony Minghella
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man ... He seems to be playing roles, plunging headlong into each part - but where are the cameras? Monsieur Oscar is alone, accompanied only by Céline (Edith Scob), the blonde chauffeur. Along the way he encounters a fashion shoot with a model (Eva Mendes) who he abducts, and a mysterious female (Kylie Minogue) in a matching white stretch limo, with whom he a past.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Eat your heart out Lady Gaga, eat your heart out Madonna ... that's not a music video; THIS is a music video. It's 155 minutes long, and the song appears near the end, but as Kylie Minogue launches into the melancholy, rhetorical lyrics, 'Who were we / When we were who we were / back then ...' we suddenly realise, Aaaaah! So that's what this film is.

How can I be so flippant when this film is really about death. Well, for one thing, all films are about death one way or another (as Peter Weir remarked recently), and for another, Holy Motors is a joke. On us. That, too, is revealed right at the end (but I won't go into that) as audiences sit there mullet-faced as this bizarre escapade unfolds.

Denis Lavant deserves some sort of medal for his performance - or performances, to be precise, as he appears in various guises - DISguises - and enacts scenarios that are neither connected to each other nor meaningful to us.

But it's pointless me raving on about what takes place on screen. Filmmaker Leos Carax (the name is a give away: this not an average filmmaker) puts together a shambolic set of metaphors about death, the spirit world, fate and a mysterious force which may or may not be embodied in the stretch limos. Symbolism is rather scattered and dramatic effects are liberally used. When Oscar, on one of his 'appointments' bumps into a fashion shoot with Eva Mendes, he abducts her (after seemingly putting her in a trance by licking her armpit with his bloodied mouth which has just bitten off an assistant's finger ...) and takes her into a subterranean cavern where he rearranges her chiffon gown into Muslim robe, then disrobes and lies naked and erect by her side while she sings a lullaby.

OK, so that is out of context - but so it is in the film. Holy Motors motors along on 13 cylinders while Oscar hops in and out, changing his appearance and wardrobe, using the costumes and wigs stored in the mobile dressing room. Celine (Edith Scob) is a calming presence, but the mystery visitor (Michele Piccoli) who refers to 'some of us' being a bit concerned about Oscar lately, is less so. Who is he?

At first we take all this quite seriously and literally, but it becomes obvious that Carax is stuffing his film full of references that are vaguely aligned (at least in his mind) with the ethereal fantasy of the afterlife as a place to borrow ghosts for re-enactment of certain scenes, usually dramatic or deadly. It's audacious and unique, if nothing else.

Review by Louise Keller:
Every preconception you may have will be shattered by this unique and bizarre work by French writer director Leos Carax, that is open to interpretation and which defies categorisation. Raising more questions than answers, it is a circus of a film themed on death, that is all at once drama, comedy, tragedy, mystery, thriller, farce, erotica and even a musical. There is a tour de force performance by the eminently mouldable chameleon Denis Lavant, whose man in the white stretch limo charges with conviction from one set of peculiar and unexpected circumstances to the next. Carax's greatest skill is his ability to drag us willingly through the gutters, streets, sewers, cafes and establishments of Paris as we contemplate the meaning of life, the present, the past, the future and the roles we play.

From the outset, there are disjointed elements to alert us that this is no ordinary narrative. There is a naked man, a still and silent audience, a man in pyjamas who like the little Dutch boy whose finger saves the dyke, places his finger into a hole in a wall painting of leafless trees before crashing through the wall. A conservatively dressed man makes his way to a waiting limousine; we hear a child's voice saying Goodbye Daddy, work hard. Then we enter the world of unpredictable, theatrical world Monsieur Oscar (Lavant) in the symbolic limo as he sits before a brightly lit make-up mirror. His driver Celine (Edith Scob) alerts him to the black folder containing details of his nine appointments.

The beauty of the act is what drives him. Wearing elaborate disguises for each of the many depicted characters grounded in its own set of circumstances, Monsieur Oscar steps out of the limo as any one of nine different characters. Most extraordinary is the sequence in which he is a motion capture specialist, wearing a fitted black jumpsuit covered in white sensors. Backward somersaults, acrobatic leaps with baton a-twirling and an erotic dance of sorts takes place with a tall, buxom, platinum blonde wearing a skin-tight red plastic jumpsuit. The copulating scene is like something out of a sexual fantasy.

Also worthy of note is the scene set in a cemetery, featuring Eva Mendes as a photographic model, who is abducted and taken into the sewers of Paris by a one-eyed, flower-eating loony with a long red beard. I will leave the many revelations in this sequence for you to discover. By now we think nothing will surprise us, but it does, including Kylie Minogue bursting into song in an abandoned department store building, surrounded by plastic arms, legs and heads of discarded mannequins. Who were we, she asks?

The beauty of Paris is featured prominently throughout, as we wonder what, why, where and how? And who is the man with the birthmark questioning Monsieur Oscar about his frame of mind? Just when you think you have worked everything out, the rug is metaphorically pulled from under us. Holy Motors indeed!

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

(France, 2012)

CAST: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes, Michel Piccoli, Big John, Jean-Francois Balmer

PRODUCER: Martine Marignac, Albert Prevost, Maurice Tinchant

DIRECTOR: Leos Carax

SCRIPT: Leos Carax

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yves Cape, Caroline Champetier

EDITOR: Nelly Quettier

MUSIC: Neil Hannon


RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020