Holy Motors

Holy Motors ★★★★★

Leos Carax's new film, his first full-length feature in over a decade, opens with himself as he enters a secret door in his bedroom and walks into a cinema. The audience watches the screen, and are introduced to Monsieur Oscar, who travels from one destination to another in his limousine, applying extensive makeup and emerging at each stop as a different character. He begins the morning as an elderly businessman with a family, before shifting into a begging spinster, a hitman, and a flower-eating, sewer-dwelling leprechaun, among others. All the while there is the question of why he is playing these roles, and who he is playing them for. It reminded me, strangely enough, of the Bill Murray comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little, which features a plot element called the Theater Of Life, an outlet for people to act without the need for a stage or cameras. That idea of theater being played out in reality, without any specific audience or any camera there to capture it, is only one of the many ideas the film entertains. To say much more about the roles Oscar plays would spoil many of the film's best moments, but I will mention one interlude where he dons a motion-capture suit and performs acrobatic stunts in a pitch-black warehouse, with only the lights on his body visible in the darkness. This section displaying the wonders of digital motion capture work contrasts nicely with the film's opening images of early footage of human motion, and indeed one of the pleasures of Holy Motors is how it contrasts the old with the new.

The constant changing of roles and situations also allows for some playful experiments with genre storytelling, as Oscar seems to move between comedy and tragedy, musical and horror, realistic drama and surrealist fantasy. The constant presence throughout each section is actor Denis Lavant, who immerses himself in every role so thoroughly that it's easy to accept him at every point, even though it's made clear each section is a performance carefully tailored to the situation. Despite its oblique nature, the film is one of the most exhilarating and intellectually-stimulating experiences I've had the pleasure to witness in the past year. To be honest though, I don't feel I've even scratched the surface of what this film has to offer, but I know I'll be gladly returning to it many times.