Review: HOLY MOTORS Is Some Kind of Wonderful

"Holy Motors" is so layered a film, we don’t even know where or how to begin to describe it. It’s so much easier to dissect an unpleasant movie than it is to praise a marvelous one. There are only so many times one can say, “It’s awesome!” before people begin to realize there are a limited number of adjectives in a writer’s vocabulary.

Yes, “Holy Motors” is awesome, but let’s try this: writer/director Leos Carax has taken his love of avant-garde cinema to radical new heights. There, that should do it.

Denis Lavant (a frequent collaborator with Carax) stars as Monsieur Oscar, an elderly homeless woman, motion capture professional in the arts of combat and sex, sewer barbarian, overbearing father, accordion player (in an all-accordion band), assassin, old man on his deathbed, romantic reunited with an old flame (played by Kylie Minogue), and a father to two adult monkeys.” (You’re probably already lost, but bear with us). Oscar is a performer and travels in a white limousine from one destination to the next, playing these emotionally and physically demanding characters, one at a time, in each location. It’s assumed that we, the audience, are watching him every step of the way. His driver is Céline (Édith Scob — mostly known as the daughter with the disfigured face in Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face”), and she has two simple responsibilities: give him the detailed file for his next appointment and make sure he arrives on time for it. We learn early on that Oscar is followed by constant security during his missions, so his profession is seemingly dangerous and important.

Carax also brings back the character of “Merde” from his short in the anthology film, “Tokyo!” This hellion looks like a Leprechaun who was never accepted into the Leprechaun society because he’s, well, a bit rough around the edges, to say the least. His tiny green pants rise well above his ankles, his toenails and fingernails are long, sharp and tainted with who knows what and he’s blind in one eye. This uncivilized man roams cemeteries, eats colorful flowers freshly put on graves and kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes, in a brief but important cameo). His intention with her is harmless — he just wants to lick her armpits and romance her without exchanging bodily fluids. It’s the most unconventional erotic moment one can possibly imagine.

This segment, along with a few others, includes some quick but extreme violence, and it’s unclear whether the brutality we are witnessing is actually happening or is part of the show. The complexity of this film’s reality is brilliant.

Film critic-turned-filmmaker Carax is known for taking daring chances. “Holy Motors” is his salute to all the French New Wave filmmakers who dared to think differently from the Hollywood norm decades ago. To add, this film just might be Carax’s visual commentary on today’s society.

Let’s recap: we are shown a homeless woman desperate for change, and minutes later, a rich artist completely unhappy with this fantasy job most would kill for. There are many questions that arise in this film, none of which are spelled out in front of you. This is a film that requires multiple viewings and encourages speculation and debate.

"Holy Motors" is a character study about a guy living life as other people more often than as himself. As Oscar gets dressed for his next persona, his hollow eyes suggest this job is quickly becoming an exhaustion. (Also, he says he’s exhausted twice, so that makes it obvious, too). But what do they say on Broadway? "The show must go on." Even though he is only dressed as one of his characters for five to 10 minutes, Oscar makes sure each personality becomes eccentric enough to stand on its own. You will not forget any of them. This is the handy work from Lavant, who’s perhaps the best character actor we’ve seen since Charlie Chaplin (which is ironic because he plays Charlie Chaplin in Harmony Korine’s "Mister Lonely"). Lavant gives each of his characters vision and ambition and pulls it off remarkably.

Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.

Originally published on NextMovie.