Please note that the discussion after the jump **contains spoilers** and should be read after you have seen the film. You have been warned! For my initial spoiler-free thoughts on the film, please go here.
Holy Motors opens with a scene starring the director himself, Leos Carax who finds a hidden door in his hotel room which opens into the back of a once-grand cinema. The audience sits expressionless, starring at the screen without appearing to feel or think a thing. Even the appearance of creatures in the aisles cannot rouse them from the numbness.
This opening scene sets the tone for an original and experimental film which is a commentary on both the state of cinema and what it means to live - are we who we think we are, or are we just all players in the artistic experiment which is life?
The vehicle through which we explore these themes is an actual vehicle (a white stretch limo) and the occupant of the limo, Oscar (Denis Lavant). While it is never explicitly explained what Oscar does, or who he is employed by, we come to learn that he is an actor of sorts, performing some very strange parts for an unknown audience. Oscar is presented with appointment books by his driver Céline (Edith Scob) and within each book there is information about the part he has been employed to play. We see him as an old beggar woman, a dying man, a banker, an assassin, and a mentally ill homeless man and more. It is clear that he has played some of these roles before – he explains Merde (“shit” in French) when reading the appointment book for his role as ‘Merde’ the mentally ill homeless man. We also learn that there are others like him who travel the streets of Paris in limos, going to various appointments.
The only time we can be sure we’re seeing the real Oscar is in the back of the limo between appointments – at all other times we must assume he is playing a role. There is however one act which I question if we did see the real Oscar – he gets out of the limo and into another car which he drives himself. He then collects his daughter from a party and drops her home. While this could be another role, it seems out-of-place in due to how realistic and mundane it is among the almost fantastical other characters and scenes. Part of the brilliance of this film is, even though he could be himself at this stage, we really don’t know. When we are ourselves, aren’t we just playing roles anyway? The role of a father, a son, an employee, a lover – aren’t these just roles that make-up our lives, our identities?
There are occasions throughout the film when Oscar muses on the state of acting and performance. He comments that cameras used to be bigger than our heads, and now you can’t see them at all. I wonder if this is the director’s way of commenting on the state of cinema and film. I am hesitant to assume what (if any) statement he wanted to make with this film, but it seems that it is almost a love letter to grand performances of old – Theatrics, lavish sets, detailed costumes, and performances that actually meant something. One has to wonder how happy Mr Carax is in the world of handy-cams and budget productions. I believe that the opening scene with the expressionless audience could be interrupted in two ways – either the audience have seen everything thrown at them before and are bored/their interest is unable to be roused; or that film itself has become predictable (cookie-cutter models), and it is not inspiring the audience in any way at all. Have audiences become lazy or have film-makers? Are there any original ideas any more? These are interesting ideas to muse about in the modern age of cinema.
My thoughts on the score, cinematography can be read in my original review here, but in short I think the film is wonderfully constructed, and while it is a crazy film, it is edited and pieced together seamlessly.
My last comment on this film is about the interlude – the scene which will stay with me long other details may fade. That scene is just outstanding – from the actual music, to how the band swelled in size as the song went on, to the absolute randomness of it. I can’t stop grinning when I think about it. Sorry that was quite gushing, but I honestly think it brilliant. I’d like there to be a soundtrack for me to buy now please!
After this second viewing it became quite clear to me that this film will not be for everyone. It’s not exactly conventional, and it can be quite confusing to follow at first. However I think if you go in with an open mind, you’ll be able to find something to admire or think more about. This is a film worth making an effort to see at the cinema.
Holy Motors opens in limited release in Australia on August 23, 2012.