REVIEW: Holy Motors [2012]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: NR | Runtime: 115 minutes | Release Date: July 4th, 2012 (France)
Studio: Les Films du Losange / Indomina Releasing
Director(s): Leos Carax
Writer(s): Leos Carax

“Too bad. I miss forests.”

Is it science fiction, fantasy, drama, comedy, all or none of the above? As spoken by a character from within, beauty exists in the eye of the beholder and so does the importance of Leos Carax‘s Holy Motors. However, rather than positing the question of what happens when there no longer is a beholder, I wonder if the film actually waxes poetic on the truth that we are quickly becoming beholden to everything. Through enhancing technology and a flattening of the world, we have the possibility of seeing or hearing anything we want at the snap of our fingers. Over-zealous people flaunt their shortcomings to the world via reality television and the media ensures no stone is left unturned, decency and privacy be damned.

We each grow older, forget ourselves outside the context of society’s preconceptions, and find our lives commodified so they may be bought and sold to the highest bidder. We become milestones in each other’s existences, serving as markers of pain, regret, joy, and desire. Memories are made as though reenacted by actors paid to give us closure, real feeling all but extinct as we’re drained of emotion so as to become the faceless hoards of a universe losing its individuality. All it would take is a different hair color, eye color, wardrobe, or attitude to transform into exactly what the person down the street needs to satisfy their selfish psychological desire for connection. The part of parent, child, friend, or lover up for grabs to whomever is willing or able to elicit a reaction.

To me this is the meaning of Carax’s intermittently brilliant and confounding piece of pure, gorgeous artifice. Our lives have become interchangeable as we often find ourselves forsaking reality to live vicariously through others on our rapidly multiplying electronic screens. The line between fact and fiction has blurred; we’ve become numb to tragedy through the authenticity of the false and indifferent to happiness via artificial stimulations. The brave new world of the future brings us desensitization unlike any we ever could have fathomed—the threat of machines rebelling against their makers merely a metaphor for humanity growing cold, clinical, and unfeeling in its unavoidable descent into hell. We’ve become so infatuated by image that one man’s punishment to his daughter can literally be making her live life as herself.

What would happen if we could slip in and out of different lives? What if like Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) we could ride around in a limousine dressing room preparing for any number of ‘appointments’ that allow us to be whomever or whatever we’re tasked to become devoid of any consequences our actions may deserve? We could be a monster from the sewers eating whatever we can get our teeth upon, a murderer killing with impunity those we project our likenesses upon in a sort of identity suicide, or a normal family man loved and cherished by those he worked tirelessly to protect. Nightmare and dream intertwine as we perform roles seen by whoever is willing to take a glimpse. The cameras haven’t disappeared; they’re just no longer visible.

Truth is dead; pasts are no more than unspeakable thoughts irrelevant to the new tasks lying ahead. No more do we wonder what could have been when the possibilities of what can be are limitless. Life is our own personal movie and we are its director creating new characters to play when the feeling strikes. The genre changes on a whim and we manufacture a fresh mask to fulfill our role, fate driving us to each destination on a fixed schedule. We’re powerless to fight against it and frankly ecstatic about the opportunity to live free from mortality. Death is merely the beginning of a new chapter, mistakes forgiven as we rise to meet a new challenge. We thank those who acted alongside us and hope to meet them again in the next life, our consciousness constantly shifting to and fro.

It’s total bullshit and yet completely to the point. Holy Motors depicts a malleable infrastructure to project our inherent God complexes upon it. We all use religion or the lack thereof to guide us through life like Céline (Edith Scob), taking us to our next destination so we may run free inside the moment and saving us from our transgressions so we may continue on. We’re all voyeurs trying to pry into the lives of others we believe may be more interesting, equally entranced and repulsed by what we see. Mr. Oscar shows us how age can either make us irrelevant or laud us with praise and thanks; sex can be irresistibly sensual or vile, demeaning, and repugnant; and love can come with preconditions, be too strong to last, or possess no boundaries.

And he does it all in one strange, exciting day set to music alongside a collection of women spanning Eva Mendes‘ sexpot Kay M, Kylie Minogue‘s lost love Jean, Elise Lhomeau‘s grateful Elise, and Jeanne Disson‘s sweetly insecure Angèle. Lavant is a revelation transforming into a wealth of disparate characterizations while remaining a quiet, introspective soul when in between performances. Carax places him in insane situations full of suspense, emotion, frivolity, or unavoidable severity—he is the epitome of the new flesh with apologies to David Cronenberg. As broken down ‘sets’ are shown full of blank mannequins and camcorders, ‘reality’ shows us their replacements. Our eyes are now the cameras and we the lead actors in some large, all-encompassing film. Privacy is dead and everything is for sale, including our tombstones.

Carax is no easy filmmaker and Holy Motors is no easy film and yet I can’t stop myself from finding it more captivating each time I recall a scene. It’s an art piece of the highest sort, begging you to delve beneath the surface and open yourself to its wonders. I thought it was merely all right while it played, but processing its myriad intricacies now keeps me wondering if it isn’t a masterpiece after all. From the stunning, lustful motion-capture dance to the invigorating accordion band marching through the streets to its blatant look behind the curtain of the medium’s own magic, this is a movie containing some of the years most unforgettable moments. I feel as I did after watching David Lynch‘s Lost Highway for the first time and that’s what I call high praise.

[1] Eva Mendes and Denis Lavant in Indomina Group’s Holy Motors (2012)
[2] A scene from Indomina Group’s Holy Motors (2012)
[3] A scene from Indomina Group’s Holy Motors (2012)

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