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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.

Reviews of Perestroika, Tokyo! and Paris 36

Perestroika is the new film directed by Slava Tsukerman who made the cult film Liquid Sky in 1982 and hasn’t done many films since. It’s about a physicist (Sam Robards) who left Russia under Communist rule and returned years later after the USSR fell. His marriage is in a shambles, he drinks too much and he has writer’s block in his efforts to use physics to prove the existence of God. There are some interesting scenes comparing pre- and post-Communist life (a few excellent ones where his colleagues all publicly and vociferously denounce him for his desire to immigrate then turn up at his apartment a couple of days later to celebrate his birthday as if nothing of any significance had happened) and Robards and Ally Sheedy are excellent, though most of the other actors are hampered by the dubbing. But the film fails to connect emotionally, possibly because when all is said and done, though the author wants you to think it’s about a man’s existential impasse, it’s really just a Philip Roth type story where you’re supposed to feel sorry for the central character because four women are after him.
Tokyo! (to distinguish it from Tokyo; or Tokyo :-)) is an omnibus film made up of three shorts. The first called Interior Design, written and directed by Michel Gondry, is about a woman who turns into a chair because she has lost her purpose in life. It has some interesting moments, but it’s hard to tell what the moral of the story is. The second film, Merde, written and directed by Leos Carax, is about…I have no idea; try as I might, I can’t remember a single thing about it. The third, Shaking Tokyo, written and directed by Joon-ho Bong (who did The Host) is the most satisfying. It’s about a compulsive obsessive agoraphobe who one day meets the eyes of a female pizza delivery person and falls in love. He finally takes his first step out of his home in years, only to find out that everybody else has become agoraphobic. It’s filled with creepy scenes in the tradition of many Asian horror films where the effects are suggested rather than CGI’d.

Paris 36 is not Children of Paradise, though at times it seems to try to be. It’s also not 42nd Street, which is also resembles at times. It’s not really a lot of anything except a mish mash of plots from a lot of different films. It starts out well enough, but about a third of the way, it all starts derailing. There’s no real logic to much of it and it all seems rather haphazard, as if the authors Christophe Barratier (who also directed), Pierre Philippe, and Julien Rappeneau were making it up as they went along. This is perhaps one of the few times a movie would be improved by reading a book on screenwriting.