Holy Motors

Holy Motors ★★★½

Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) is a performer. He spends a typical work day by going in a limousine from one place to another, where he plays various parts. Make no mistake, these plays seem to take Mr. Oscar's entire time, leaving only a bit of it for a wardrobe change between parts and the occasional meal inside the limousine. It's as if every waking moment of Mr. Oscar's day is a moment that is intended to be part of a play. Yet he keeps at it, relentlessly so. When asked by his supervisor (Michel Piccoli) what makes him carry on, Mr. Oscar says it's "for the beauty of the act", to which the supervisor replies the beauty is "in the eye of the beholder".

Life is attributed meaning when we share it with others. Life has to be performed in front of an audience, if there is no audience, life loses its meaning. The need for connection is what drives us to go out there in a world we might not otherwise make sense of, it's what can give our life meaning. Even if selfish at its core, this need is too great to ignore, so much so that we are willing to perform different roles in the hopes of finding some sort of connection, however contrived or ingenuine it may turn out to be. The search never really ends, not even when you begrudgingly look in the mirror at the fake nose you've just put on for the umpteenth time. As tiring as it may be, the show must go on, for your sake and for the sake of others. What is artifice if not the truest form of expression, the proof behind one's insecurity concerning the world around, coping mechanism against the fear of being alone, longing for that ever elusive feeling of belonging to said world and, finally, one's attempt at making an impression, at making oneself heard? Even in death, there is a desperate need to preserve the traces of our existence; here they are exempted from erasure (and might even be artificially realigned in order to convey the desired image), by making one's legacy available with a single click.

Mr. Oscar is not playing a part "for the beauty of the act", even if he wants us to believe he is; he is playing a part to remain relevant, to avoid being ignored or forgotten. It's his attempt at making a connection, however shallow the attempt and however vain the motive invoked.

The movie is extremely ambitious, as it tries to capture all of human experience in a series of seemingly unrelated and staged vignettes. This meta approach is essential to the movie but at the same time it can be an alienating factor, as most of the time is spent on these plays but most of the emotion comes from the brief moments in between. Although artifice is employed to transmit emotions for the majority of the film, this mostly serves a theoretical interest at heart; there are otherwise glimpses of a more genuine nature but they're few and far between. As an example, the deathbed scene is melodramatic to the point of parody, we don't know the characters so we can't fully care for them and by this point in the film we've been conditioned to expect a performance rather than something genuine; all of this renders the scene as unaffecting. It is at the very end of the scene, after the act is over and the two performers exchange a few words before moving on to the next gig (the ever-present pressure of society and expectations is a constant in the film), when they are allowed a moment of respite and we're given something to be moved by. Although these small moments wouldn't be as impactful without the overall structure of the film, it does seem a bit too much to go through for so little. I expect this is simply because you can only take in so much after a first viewing, which makes the thought of revisiting Holy Motors an alluring one to say the least.

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