HOLY MOTORS



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French writer/director Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is a WTF film.  It’s also one of those films that you will probably love or hate.  I loved it.  My friend who went with me hated it.   I mean, haaaaaated it.
Though the way many people talk about the film might lead you to believe there isn’t a story here, there actually is, and one that I ultimately found deeply moving.  Denis Levant (who has been with Carax since Carax’s first feature, Boy Meets Girl—a film, if truth be told, turned me off completely to Carax at the time) plays a man who has, what some might call, a very odd job.  He is picked up by a limo every day, a limo filled with costumes and make up and props; he is given a certain number of files with various scenarios; and at each stop, he assumes a fictional identity and plays out a role from the files, all for the delight of a strangely unseen audience who pays his salary. 
These scenarios include an old beggar woman; an alien created by donning a special effects suit and performing before a green screen for a sci-fi extravaganza; a boulevard drama about the strained relationship between a father and his daughter; a Tarantino like crime drama; and perhaps most memorably an odd, leprechaun like creature that crawls through the sewer, comes out at a cemetery at a photo shoot with Eva Mendez as the model, whereupon he abducts her, takes her below the earth and what he does to her I won’t say except there is an erect penis involved, but don’t worry, it’s not remotely what you think; and finally, a Christophe Honore type encounter between Levant and a fellow  limo actress (played by Kylie Minogue) who sings a haunting song in a deserted building that ends with a tragic finale.   
Oh, and there’s an awesome, non sequitorial enter’acte, in which Levant plays an accordion in a church while marching around joined by more and more musicians.  I mean it.  It was aaaaaaaawesome.
It does take awhile for the story to get going.  The beggar woman is the weakest section, partly because Carax cheats a little here by having some bodyguards, who were part of Levant’s previous scenario, tailing the old woman, which contradicts the old woman’s story—this makes the whole thing a bit confusing to follow for awhile.   But once the movie gets going and it becomes clear what is happening, it’s a trip.  I mean a real trip.  I mean a realllllllllllllllllll trip.
But it is also a rather disturbing one because Levant’s character is beginning to crack.  This is how he makes his living, this is what he does.  But it’s taking his toll because he takes the roles so personally, he out methods James Dean and Marlon Brando, until he can’t leave the emotions behind.  They begin to take over his life and the more tragic and disturbing the stories become, the more delicate his psyche becomes.  And his job never ends.  When the day is done (around midnight), he is taken for his final acting job for the day, a home where he becomes the man of the house for the night.  At the same time, he can’t bring himself to quit.  He’s stuck and my heart bled for him.
Levant is amazing here.  He enters each character seamlessly.  There have been many actors who have played multiple rolls in movies before (Alec Guiness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove), and Levant is up there with them.  He also puts Tom Hanks and others who tried the same thing in Cloud Atlas to shame (Holy Motors actually puts the whole of Cloud Atlas to shame—and on a much smaller budget).    Levant’s performance is perhaps the best of the year so far (sorry, Daniel Day, but it happens).
The ending, like the beginning, is a bit of a letdown.  It begins well as the limo returns to a garage called Holy Motors (hence, the title) where a huge number of limos are already pulling in.  You realize then that Levant is only one of a huge number of people who do this exact same thing and the impact and sadness is palpable.  But when the limos are left alone, they talk.  Fine, an intriguing idea.  The problem is they don’t really have anything much to say.   The impulse was good, but I don’t think it really achieved anything of significance (how I wanted them to complain about how boring their day was and how nothing ever happened).
Can I recommend you see Holy Motors?  It is a movie I think should be seen, especially if you are interested in movies as movies.  At the same time, it’s not for everybody.  It’s a weird, odd film that is a bit difficult to get into.  I think the payoff is huge, but I also like Godard and Bresson.   So let your conscious be your guide.
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