Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Holy Motors (2012)

***NOTE: The following analysis/review may contain MILD SPOILERS regarding some detail in the film, but not to the extent of taking anything away from the film viewing experience as such .***

Something like "Holy Motors" comes once in a blue moon and hits you like a thunderbolt that threatens to change your life forever. How? It makes you taste blood and reinforces your belief in great cinema. It makes a huge percentage of other films you may have revered seem pale in comparison. It makes you believe that inventive vision and great craft are still alive! 

"Holy Motors" begins with a scene filmed on the film's maker himself! Leos Carax, known in credits only as Le Dormeur, opens up a secret door with a key that is fused to his finger (a middle finger, no less! Symbolism?)! The door then leads to a packed old movie hall, with a film playing, while the entire audience appears to be dead or asleep or in a trance-like state. Only a couple of dogs and a small baby are seen wandering about! Sounds bizarre? Well, this magnificent and enigmatic beginning is…..only the beginning! 

We cut to an entirely different setup now. A freaky looking man, Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), who seems to be a prolific businessman climbs aboard his stretch limo driven by Celine (Edith Scob). He asks Celine about his appointments for the day, and they appear in some file kept next to Oscar. He flips through the file and what follows next is nothing short of a sudden transportation into an entirely new dimension of unreason!  Prima facie, what these appointments consist of, are some unusual tasks or jobs, presumably acting jobs for Oscar, as he changes his makeup and costume every time he sets out of his limo to fulfill a particular appointment! So while in one such appointment he becomes an old homeless woman standing on the street begging for alms, in the next he is a motion capture artist putting on a strange costume for some animated screen action, probably for a video game or an erotic animation film! In yet another scenario (or is it his reality?) he is a father of a teenage girl, trying to exercise his power on her.

As the scenarios in Oscar's appointments start to get increasingly weird and even become a matter of life and death, you start wondering what his job is really all about! Further on, some hints are sprinkled as to what it could all mean. But in the end, Leos Carax is another one of those filmmakers who don't believe in wrapping everything up neatly in a nice package. In the classic tradition of surrealist filmmakers like David Lynch, he leaves you flummoxed but not at the cost of not making any sense at all. Leos Carax's film is an intellectually stimulating futuristic road trip of sorts, in which the hero keeps moving on in a seemingly never-ending journey of shifting identities. It literally appears as if Oscar is being transported from one universe to another, ceasing to exist in one life, and moving on to the next. What is he doing all of that for? Who are his employers? Is he being forced to perform these duties? Is there some greater force controlling Oscar's moves? 

The only other human connection that we see is in the form of Celine. But who is she really? Perhaps a personal secretary appointed by Oscar's employers.  Someone sent to overlook Oscar's activities to make sure he is on the right track. Or could she be there to prevent him from escaping this loop that he has found himself in? It is not entirely clear. There are a whole lot of different interpretations that can be drawn from the attack of all the mind-bending and sometimes macabre images Carax throws at us!

There could be various ways to look at it, but it wouldn’t be very wrong to say that "Holy Motors" paints a rather scary picture of the future of entertainment. Perhaps it is hinting at an idea of cinema and reality TV blending together to give entertainment an entirely new meaning. Perhaps it is Carax's exaggerated portrayal of how actors become slaves to showbiz and are willing to go to any levels to get those hits and stay one-up. Then again, it could be a vividly imagined scenario of real life seamlessly merging with reel life for an actor, as he forgets his real existence, and starts living his various roles. On a more abstract level, could it be that "Holy Motors" is a depiction of Oscar's own personal hell? Maybe a depiction of an actor doomed to live this kind of vagabond existence from which there is no escape. And that the man at the helm of Oscar's journey of madness is the man we see in the beginning, Le Dormeur, showcasing Oscar's act to his zombified audiences! But given Carax's eccentricity, chances are, it could also hint at his own isolation and eventual return to the world of cinema (this is Carax's first feature film in thirteen years) depicted in a dream-like vision, or a symbolic representation that the audience with an appetite for some real cinema no longer exists or is dead...!

Regardless of whether there is any deeper meaning to the narrative or not,  it is not particularly essential to dissect the film. A patient viewer can still indulge in this freewheeling adventure by completely submitting to whatever Carax has to offer and come out immensely satisfied. And just when you think that you’ve seen it all and that it can't get any weirder, Carax takes the film towards its shockingly unreal culmination that is sure to make you levitate from your seat and applaud the filmmaker for his radically bohemian vision.

Technically brilliant in all areas, "Holy Motors" maintains an oneiric feel throughout. There are some highly imaginative, fantastical visuals and some great music too. At one point the film almost turns into a musical, perhaps to simply mystify the viewer or to bend genres randomly. Either way, it brings out the whimsicality of Carax (in a positive way, of course) who just wants to go all out with his material. With each new appointment, comes a new episode in Oscar's life, each episode more eventful than the last. The proceedings are maddening, but not frustrating. As a matter of fact, you find yourself giving in to the delirious perplexity and can't help but be hooked to the screen in a raised anticipation of what’s to follow.

Denis Lavant who carries the film over his able shoulders delivers the performance of a lifetime, donning several different roles and very comfortably disappearing into each of the diverse personae he assumes. Kylie Minogue, Michel Piccoli and Eva Mendes appear in brief but very important roles and make their mark. Edith Scob is apt for the character of Celine. Watch out for that scene in which there's a nod to her most famous film appearance.

Despite the long hiatus from feature-length cinema, Leos Carax has returned with a bang and delivered a landmark film, a highly captivating, daringly original, modern avant-garde masterpiece that would make Luis Bunuel proud. "Holy Motors" is sure to go down in history as one of the most important films ever made.

Score: 10/10

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