Holy Motors

Holy Motors ★★★★

My friends -- I'm still hanging in there, coughing pretty badly this morning but it's fine. My brain is certainly at reduced ability so go easy on me <3.


Anything can happen in movies. Holy Motors embodies the best aspects of this truism by itself being a movie in which anything can happen. The overarching narrative is thin, which may be offputting to some: a man rides in a limo from "appointment" to "appointment," changing his identity between each. It's a thinly veiled (if veiled at all) look at the job of actors, transposed into the reality of the film. The things he does, to some vague degree, truly happen. But we know it's artificial -- the film explicitly opens with a theater crowd (overseen by Leos Carax, the director himself) and makes multiple references to people watching. It's cinema exposed as a collective lie, one that we all choose to buy into for our collective benefit.

There's a concept in videogames, marketing specifically, of the vertical slice (I imagine it exists elsewhere as well). When games are promoted they're frequently shown with a particularly exciting portion, say 10 or 15 minutes. There's a sort of negative connotation because these are usually highly orchestrated bits, perhaps not quite representative of what the game as a whole will be able to do. But regardless of that, this is essentially what Holy Motors functions as. It's a sampler plate of the high points of various films that don't exist. An elderly man has a heart to heart with his niece as he dies. A harsh father berates his daughter for her shyness. A sewer leprechaun kidnaps a model. You know, all the common film scenarios. These are all polished and interesting, despite leaning on contexts that don't exist. And Denis Lavant, alongside some fantastic makeup, makes the whole thing work. He embodies the young and old, men and women, the refined and the grotesque. It seems there's nothing he can't do.

Well, what to make of it as a whole? Holy Motors has some commentary on the changes the film industry has gone through -- if it's to be taken at face value, I'm a little skeptical of the harsh words for the invention of modern digital technology, but the film itself is digital so this feels a bit tongue in cheek or at least tempered. Ultimately it is certainly a movie for those who are deep into the medium like us here on this website. Shots of the old black and white silent shorts are interspersed, the sort of thing when it was miraculous that the video existed at all so the film just showed a person doing some basic task. How far we've come. There are many inside references too, particularly the character played by Edith Scob referencing her past role in Eyes Without a Face. The overall narrative will feel slight and pointless to some, though I think it's what you make of it. There's the potential here to reflect on the magic of films themselves, or on radically re-inventing one's identity, and overall so many scenes are just hypnotic and memorable even if they are disconnected. There's a motion capture... dance of sorts that absorbed my full attention and felt a bit magical. Said scene is largely incoherent for any "meaning" but beautiful or interesting images are valuable on their own. That's another way to look at this whole film.

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