Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012): France | Germany

Reviewed by China Rose.  Viewed at AFI Fest 2012.

Director and Writer Leos Carax won the Cannes Film Festival, Award of Youth 2012 and the Chicago Gold Hugo for Best Director to name a few. American actress Eva Mendes has a great cameo in this French subtitled film. The whole Holy Motors cast and crew did a great job and this film is lining up awards. It’s a fresh work of insight into deep questions of our social fabric while entertaining us to delights.

This is a tantalizing film that explores life through death using a lens that blends a naturalistic, surrealism with an up close and personal, intimacy. The intimacy begins for me, as a viewer in the opening scene where our protagonist (a male, chameleon/actor, Oscar), gets out of bed. When he does a large dog lays sleeping, hence the 1st in a long series of visually, crafted cues in this film’s deftly applied metaphors. Let sleeping dogs lie, right? But even before this parable-type story of stories begins as we see the opening title credits roll, a man (Oscar) enters a theater to watch himself, watching the audience, watch him on screen. Whew!!

That is the first mental twist-a-rama.  Are you the observer or the observed, and who likes to play God? This films compels us to ask and feel about what we are made of, what is real, what is artifice. It toys with the mind and boggles the senses with graphic details that are very Kubrick-esque (Director, Stanley Kubrick) wherein that the mise en scene is pure, artificial situational circumstances that are set-up with excruciating detail to allow randomness in.

This film has a few, fun cheesy scenes when near the end the white limo’s talk to each other in the garage. I wondered if Hal (Kubrick character) had been reborn in a limo. This work was sheer brilliance and often light handed in it’s delivery to make-up (pardon the pun but the make-up was flawless in each scene) for such a weighty topic as life, death and love in this wicked world of ours.

This is abstract theory at it’s best. As a viewer it can appear as though there is something (or even nothing) happening you can comprehend but then another set of circumstances come crashing in to reveal another layer in the mix. I wouldn’t want to give-up the ghost on the storyline and spoil any experiences for you so I’ll just say this film is an orgasmic sort of fun ride into a wild mind. There is an alien sex scene par-none that does seem worth mentioning.

I’d give this film an award for just being so darn unique and mesmerizing in it’s starkly contrasted compositions and open frame camera work that leaves opportunity for interpretation. The music and sound production had a seamless contemporary feel in this project. They were joined at the hip as they say. The mise en scene (staging, settings) was carefully crafted to blend scenes with actors performances. This gave a really, real life feel inside the vignetted stories while also expressing dream like qualities. Each scene was like a separate diorama that is part of a larger “storied” framework.

A little insight into this film is that in the limo the protagonist (aptly named Oscar, very tongue in cheek) prepares for staged events that play out from place to place. He receives the projects by way of a work “file” that the protagonist then prepares for (hair, wardrobe and make-up) and then “performs” in a multilayer sense of that word. Does Oscar live in the limo or in the outer world? The limo driver or chauffeur, (female, white hair, ageless, in all white w/or w/out black in an all white limo) is keeping Oscar on task and often saving his ass.

Life like scenes that often lead to a death that then start back at the limo keep evolving. The strong use of color (white) and steady camera pulls in and out of gorgeous and horrific scenes kept the ball of yarn in this tale rolling at a perfect pitch, tone and speed. Bravo to the film makers, cast and crew.

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