Holy Motors

Holy Motors ★★★★½

I’ve seen a lot of strange and different movies over the years.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like HOLY MOTORS.

I’ll admit, like almost seemingly everyone else who has seen it, to not have fully understood the movie right away. And I still don’t fully understand it. I don’t think you’re supposed to. I think this is a movie that’s simply made to be experienced over anything else.

It opens with a man waking up alone in a room. The man is Leos Carax. The wall is decorated with the image of a large forest. There’s a door. His finger is a key. He opens the door and walks into an auditorium where a large crowd is watching a film. Then, HOLY MOTORS really starts.

What we see onscreen, what Leos Carax watches in the auditorium, is a man named Oscar get into a limousine and set out on a night drive through Paris. He makes stops along the way, each time assuming a new identity and living a new life, a new film. He’s an actor of life and the limo is his mobile dressing room, just like we’re constantly changing our performance to fit the day’s role.

Carax’s film is an homage to life as a performance and how every turn we make in life transports into an entirely new story. It’s about how we perform to cope, to forget and to escape.

Each time Oscar exits the limo, Carax shifts the tone of the film, from romantic monster movie to a spellbinding mo-cap love scene to a melancholy family drama to an unbelievably shot musical number with the most badass piece of accordion playing I’ve ever heard. Carax takes us on a ride through every single emotion and does it via every conceivable genre.

We experience the entire night through Oscar, played by the chameleon-like Denis Lavant. He’s unreal, playing in one movie a wider range of characters and emotions than most actors will ever tackle. Oscar’s the ultimate performer, constantly losing himself in each stop along his drive, but through it all Lavant never lets us forget that all of these personalities come from the same character. The fractured unity of Lavant’s Oscar should have put him in contention for the statue of the same name.

HOLY MOTORS is an emotionally overwhelming movie. With each new stop along the drive comes a whole new range of feelings and emotions. In just a few minutes each, Carax presents a full arc that leaves you breathless as you try to keep up. And on top of all of mental and emotional richness of the movie, it’s full of stunning visuals, some of which are the most striking of 2012.

I still haven’t completely wrapped my head around this movie, and I don’t know that I ever will. But I’m going to keep riding along with Oscar, and probably find something new to love about it with each go round.