Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Director: Leos Carax
Stars: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue
Running time: 116 minutes
You don't necessarily need to have a firm grasp on the concept of dream logic to fully appreciate French provocateur Leos Carax's loony yet sublime Holy Motors, but it sure would help. Having been off the radar for over 13 years, save for a brief check-in when he directed a segment of the 2008 anthology film Tokyo!, Carax reemerges with a wild, rollicking explosion of several bizarre narrative ideas, all rolled into one hilarious, preposterous, and often unsettling package. Holy Motors is one of the best movies of 2012, no doubt, and it's also proof that there are in fact filmmakers out there sitting on original, one-of-a-kind ideas; they just need to come out of hiding like Carax has done here.
Part satire about the process of making movies and part one-man character study via multiple identities, Holy Motors covers eleven plots in nearly two hours, following an enigmatic performer (Denis Lavant, in a truly remarkable and unstoppable performance) who, during a 24-hour odyssey of strangeness, gets driven around the gorgeous, hallucinogenic city of Paris in a stretch limousine. Guided by his loyal driver (Edith Scob), he makes a series of pit stops that all, in their own rights, essentially turn into mini-films, ones he's able to wardrobe-change for thanks to the limo's makeshift backseat turned all-purpose dressing room. In one moment, he's an actor covered in performance-capture gear ready to get hot and heavy with a horny dragon; in another, he's a troll-like munchkin who kidnaps a near-catatonic fashion model (Eva Mendes), brings her down to his subterranean lair, and then disrobes before munching on her hair. Lest Carax remain firmly planted in fantastical genre territories, though, Holy Motors includes stints where Lavant plays an everyday father unable to connect with his teenage father, a hitman, and an elderly man rotting away on his death bed.
Regardless of the chameleon-like, mysterious character's "role" of choice at any given moment, Lavant never breaks away from excellence. Required to show more range in one single film than most actors do in their entire careers, the film's star goes all in for his longtime collaborator Carax. Lavant clearly understood the writer-director's vastly ambitious goal: the desire to transport viewers into a cinematic dream-world that's just as concerned with saluting what goes on behind the cameras during production as what happens to audience members seated in the theater once the film is ready for public consumption.
Holy Motors adheres to no guidelines, other than to have no rules whatsoever, and, for that, it's an incredibly refreshing experience. Selling viewers on a ghoulish Keebler Elf clone who devours flowers is one thing, yet later managing to execute a cathartic finale while implying that there's some human-and-chimpanzee romance going down is a Herculean task for any filmmaker, and Carax completely nails the bawdy unpredictability. That's what lush cinematography, free-wheeling direction, and giddy storytelling can do when handled properly and with the kind of audacity Carax owns throughout the film.
It's the perfect type of film to catch during a movie-obsessed festival like Fantastic Fest, where unapologetic fanatics of cinema in all of its purest forms congregate to celebrate how motion pictures are made and why they're so powerful when experienced with a ticket-buyer's eyes. As he proves in this unruly crowd-pleaser, Carax is every bit that degree of energetic cinephile, and his love for all things silver screen is brilliantly manifested from start to finish in Holy Motors.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)