Dec 7, 2012

Unholy thoughts on Holy Motors

If I’m being honest, I didn’t like Holy Motors as much as everybody else seems to. It’s not a film that can be dismissed easily, but it’s frustrating how adamant it is in undermining itself, always remaining one step behind its ideas and never quite achieving what its visionary facade promises. I enjoyed watching it quite a lot, but feel like I left the film empty-handed; there really isn’t much to mull over. Leos Carax’s film appears very enigmatic on the surface, but is actually very clear about the details of the stories it’s telling, and suffers from their weaknesses and incoherence. It goes so far as to explicitly explain Oscar's occupation and intentions - though his employers or his audience are never revealed - but it never convinces us to care about him or enjoy his work any more than he does. It is disjointed, rather than segmented, in its narrative and this lack of connection from sequence to sequence prevents Motors from making an emotional impact. It’s clearly a deliberate choice to make these episodes wildly different, but a choice that doesn’t pay off in the end.

That being said, there’s still quite a lot to be appreciated here. Carax is one of the most singular voices in cinema and the segments of his film are products of a vision that, at the very least, doesn’t fail to intrigue the audience. Some may work better on paper than they do on the screen – Kylie Minogue’s singing could well be attuned to an equally long clip of drying paint – but others have an irresistible ‘wow’ factor to them. Then there’s the work of the make-up team, which is the best I’ve seen in a very long time. Transcending from behind-the-scenes crafts to the forefront of the narrative, the make-up artists not only do a terrific job of transforming Lavant into the several different characters he embodies, but they do so partially on camera in the back of his Limo, too. Covering a wide range of visages, from old age make-up to a sewage-dwelling flower-devouring vagabond, their work is truly outstanding in a film that has no shortage of dazzling technical achievements.

But without a doubt, Holy Motors’ strong suit is Denis Lavant’s marvellously amorphous performance. Virtually present in every scene but the opening, Lavant towers over the film with his peerlessly committed work. He morphs into every character with gusto, creating equally believable creations from a frail old woman to a teenage girl’s stern father and a hit man. It’s a methodically masterful work, but also a moving one. The only moments where the audience connects with the film is Oscar’s most personal ones, where Lavant reaches beneath the surface to give depth to an otherwise aimless man.


  1. I appreciate your balanced review. It sounds like it's worth checking out this film for the lead performance alone. I love the way you described it as "marvelously amorphous." :-)

  2. It's DEFINITELY worth checking out, and as you commented on my Silver Linings Review, a different person will have a different reaction to it. It's worth watching for sure, just that it didn't live up to the hype for me for the said reasons.

  3. I agree about the emotional impact. My main issue with Holy Motors was, despite the great performance by Denis Lavant, and all the praiseworthy originality and imagination, it left me emotionally cold at the end. I watched these odd characters but had no connection to them.I felt some of the sequences might be better off in an art exhibition.