Henry Carroll’s review published on Letterboxd:
UPDATE: My article's out (Issue 5.3) and you can buy it here! Woohoo! www.filmmattersmagazine.com/
If anyone's been wondering about the absence of my reviews from Letterboxd the past couples months, it was the combination of Holy Motors and an unpaid internship with a 3 hour round trip commute. A couple of weeks into the summer, I found out that an essay I had submitted had been accepted for publication in the quarterly undergraduate film journal Film Matters and needed several rounds of revisions. So most all of my free time out of work--and free time in work--was thrust into revising at the loss of my reviews. So as a transition back into film criticism I decided to give Holy Motors another spin before pushing it out of my brain for a while.
The first time I saw this film, I was more mystically enraptured in the atmosphere than consciously breaking down the events, and that is for good reason. The film takes place in the realm of cinema, as if Carax turned the cameras inward and deconstructed the internal state of the film from the inside out. Denis Lavant plays Monsiuer Oscar, an actor of sorts who weaves his way around Paris all day changing in and out of costume, performing for some unseen audience through some hidden camera lens. In this world the film cameras of yesteryear--personified through the film as limousines--are being pushed out to make way for the tiny cameras that are proliferating.
Fittingly, Carax nods towards this in just about every frame. From the motion capture building that resembles a warehouse churning out all sorts of strange films, the sewer system crowded with homeless people, and probably most tellingly the morphing of the digital image of the film on occasion--I thought this was just a DVD glitch the first time. Carax uses all these pieces as the backdrop for his rollicking yet melancholic, epic yet personal journey through film and acting where the cameras are so small, the actors don't even know they are being filmed.
It's part breakdown of the digital age and film history--those Muybridge interstitial scenes and the chockablock film references--in the subtext but also a reckoning with death and immortality. The film has a haunting dedication card during the credits that simply reads "Katya--For You", a nod towards the supposed suicide of Carax's girlfriend and muse a couple years before this film was made. It would be easy to focus on the subtext and simply talk of the implications thereof but to write out the content of the scenes of the appointments is a mistake. Almost all the content is of coming to terms with death or mending broken relationships. Carax comes off as a guilt-ridden man through the collection of these scenes and Holy Motors is a sort of penance, a way to stir hope in himself. And what better way to do that than to make one of the most galvanizing films ever made.
I don't pretend to understand everything in this film but watching it is like experiencing a rebirth. Of film, of the director, of myself. The film opens up so many avenues of discussion and is such a towering success that taking it down it in a single review or essay or essay-film would be daunting. This film is multitudinous and universal on so many levels that trying to reckon its nuances and intricacies feels pointless. After spending two months thinking and writing thousands of words on Holy Motors, I'm still bristling at the thought of watching it again in a couple years to see what I've missed.