Holy Motors Reviews
Aside from an Andy Serkis-esque lead preformance from the chameleon Denis Lavant, "Holy Motors" is nothing more than pretentious nonsense, pandering to the type of fim geek who attempts to find deeper meaning in randomness.
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Nate's Grade: C
Despite its title, "Holy Motors" really isn't about cars. It's somewhat about technology, with limousines probably meant to represent traditional celluloid cameras -- so big and bulky that they are a challenge to handle. But oh so wonderful. Big wonderful machines. Stretch limos can barely turn a corner in the old sectors of great cities like Paris and New York. But doesn't everyone's heart skip a beat just a bit when they enter one?
First and foremost, "Holy Motors" is about people, as was the case with Carax's first film, "Boy Meets Girl" (1984). This is an avant-garde artist with a deep-feeling heart and a deep sensitivity to the people around him. Holy Love. Amen to that.
The film documents a day in the life of a man named Oscar. (Perhaps this is a tribute to American cinema and its big, grand Academy Awards. Holy Glamour.) Played spectacularly well by the protean Denis Lavant, Oscar is carted around all day in a white stretch limo, taken to a series of appointments throughout Paris.
At each appointment, he becomes a different character. His limo is a dressing room, where he applies make-up and elaborate disguises to become his next character. The first one is an old, crippled woman begging for money on the street. Another is a revolting barefoot troll (half-man, half-beast) who interrupts a high-fashion photo shoot and kidnaps the model (who is played by Eva Mendes). Every sequence is quite thrilling, and each one is so different from the others. Most breathtaking of all is the sequence where his movements are recorded in a stop-motion studio, for use in what appears to be a pornographic video game.
Gradually it becomes clear that these appointments are elaborately planned, and everyone he interacts with during each scene is also an actor. While donning his next costume in the limo, he is also reading a file that someone else has prepared, a summary of what his next character will be doing.
We even meet a man who appears to be something like Oscar's employer, who critiques Oscar's performances. Oscar announces that he has been having more difficulty staying in character because the cameras have gotten so small that they cannot be seen. This is when "Holy Motors" started to seem like a comment on digital filmmaking.
At my screening at the New York Film Festival, Carax was in attendance, as was Kylie Minogue, who has a small role in the film. (I initially thought this was Minogue's first time acting. But not so. She has appeared in a number of television shows and films, including "Moulin Rouge," where she played the Green Fairy. Who knew?)
Carax spoke for about a half-hour after the screening, and it became even more clear that "Holy Motors" was primarily meant as an allegory about 21st-century filmmaking and the demise of traditional cameras. At one point, he said the new cameras today are not really cameras. "They're more like computers," he said.
He feels sad about the rise of digital filmmaking, claiming that it "looks terrible." But "Holy Motors," which was shot 100% on digital, looked gorgeous. Gradually during his remarks, the object of his ire shifted. What really angers him is that he's been unable to make a film since 1999. He had several projects collapse at the last minute because producers won't back him. This has nothing to do with the 21st century or changing technology. This is the age-old problem of cinema being enormously expensive.
If anything, it's gotten easier in the digital age because the new technology costs so much less. It's no surprise to me that Carax finally was able to get a project green-lighted now that digital has triumphed. To me, Carax has digital to thank. Furthermore, I suspect that "Holy Motors" is going to succeed well enough financially that he's going to get another project green-lighted in 2013. Holy Digital.
While I appreciate Carax's work and consider myself a fan, I wouldn't put him in my pantheon. There's something still just a bit underwhelming about his work.
Holy Motors follows the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. The film is challenging to decipher as it could seen as a message of how differently we show our self to other people or as commentary on film making. It all depends on how you view the material presented to you. Even if you don't look into the themes or messages is it still good entertainment. It's unpredictable at what exactly what you're going to see next. You will go from seeing a beautifully choreographed motion capture sequence shot in a darkened room, to seeing a Quasimdo like figure eating flowers and kidnapping a fashion before taking her to his lair, and you even get to see a accordion instrumental number. Some will see these random scenes without much purpose, but at least the scenes are entertaining themselves. Actor Denis Lavant delivers many outstanding performances as a disappointed father, an assassin, a lunatic, and many more all in one film. Lavant is able to change character with grace making him one of the highlights of the film. It's imagery rightfully at the level of art. We get all sorts of visuals blending all perfectly together. Holy Motors won't make logical sense and it's unconventional narrative will some scratching their heads, but it offers an experience that not many film offer and one that is open to interpretations.
Holy Motors is odd, thought provoking, visually stunning, and funny film worth investing. Whether or not you consider looking deep into it themes, you will experience different lives of people and witness its absorbing imagery to profound effect.
I hate to disappoint everybody but when you come down to it, "Holy Motors" really is not that strange of a movie. Honest. Because it is all about the highs and lows of being an actor from the zenith of living a first class lifestyle to where Oscar is right now at not being able to tell what is real or not after decades at his craft.(This becomes especially clear after Michel Piccoli does everybody a favor by showing up to drop a few hints.) It is understandable since ironically the more down to earth the scene acted out, the harder it is tell from fantasy. As to who is watching, maybe the prologue explains it, just as the ending suggests a drive-in.
That's how we got this moving art which initial concept started with a trend Carax had observed where stretch limousines were being increasingly used for weddings. He thought that these cars are bulky, that they're outdated, and that they mark the end of an era, the era of large, visible machines... and from that concept was further developed the idea about the increasing digitalisation of society; a science fiction scenario where organisms and visible machines share a common superfluity.
This movie got me with its artistic richness regardless the strangeness or madness! Full kaleidoscope of black humour and bizarre situations filled with emotions and surprises... it is very hard for a movie to surprise me - this one did it with ease!
Some of your better-looking avant-garde art pieces with no substance and only style tend to merely be mediocre, whereas good-looking, but not stunning films of this type, like "Gomorrah", are utter pieces of garbage, so I can't help but feel as though pretty photography really does bump films of this type up a notch, with this film reinforcing such a theory, as it is bad something fierce, and doesn't even give you the courtesy of "Hunger"-grade visuals, which isn't to say that this film isn't pretty, because as relatively underwhelming as this film's visuals kind of are, Caroline Champetier and Yves Cape deliver on cinematography that is consistently quite attractive in its distinct coloring and lighting, with magic occasions that are nothing short of all-out beautiful. Don't go into this film expecting the awesome testaments to the power of photographic artistry that can be found in Terrence Malick's recent efforts (Hey, Terrence Malick films are essentially the best-looking meditative art piece with little plot, and they're actually about as good as films of this type can be, thus my theory goes further reinforced), but do expect a visually striking stylistic piece that delivers on more technical strengths than just cinematography, with one of the film's most impressive aspects being Bernard Floch makeup effects, which are undeniably upstanding in their seamlessly selling you on the transformations of our lead Monsieur Oscar. What further sells you on our lead is, of course, Denis Lavant's performance, which is backed by very little dramatic material, but stands as one of the film's strongest notes, as Lavant portrays the coldness of Oscar's true form with convincingness that is topped only when Lavant portrays the characters who Oscar portrays, near-remarkably becoming a variety of almost entirely different beings with effortless transformativeness. There's not a whole lot of meat to Lavant's performance, due to writing and directorial shortcomings, so it's not like he's utterly masterful, but our lead is a thoroughly convincing one who does what he can to carrythis disaster, which may very well be saved from a slip into a particular low in quality by Lavant's engagingly commendable lead performance. If it's not Lavant who saves this film as, well, still pretty bad, but not dismal, then it's, of all things, the very subject matter that drives the film into disaster, for although this film's non-plot is tedious, it's hard to deny that it is audaciously original, being definately not original in a good way, but nevertheless inventive enough to boast some small hint of intrigue, augmented by the occasions in which this film's thematic value does, in fact, hit. From a satire on method acting, to most any point that focuses upon music, - particularly a segment in which the Monsieur Oscar character leads a well-done instrumental musical number, captured in a single tracking shot - and is actually pretty entertaining, there are areas in this film, outside of technical and acting natures, that engage, being so few and far between it's ridiculous, but present enough to save the final product from slipping into the state of being about as bad as a useless, overdone art film of this type has ever been. With that said, make no mistake, this film is a dreadfully misguided misfire with no direction, only tedium, as well as a few nifty themes, and I really do mean, "a few".
As I said, a few spots in this film are genuinely intriguing, thanks to their thematic depth and daring uniqueness in storytelling, but on the whole, this very experimental film feels as though it really is nothing more than weird for weird's sake, with plenty of pointless happenings that mean nothing other than nothing, while certain other aspects that really to boast thematic weight fall flat as overemphatic and blandly ineffective. The critics will call this film a genius triumph, not realizing that they are no less brainwashed that the superficial casual moviegoers who are lured into blockbusters by the same amount of pointless spectacle that films of this type deliver, only presented in a different fashion, and that this film is, in fact, not simply not intelligent, but truly stupid, albeit not entirely, as there are occasions in this film that are genuinely intriguing, though not enough of them to compensate for this film's being little more than a shamelessly superfluous and unsubtle jab as the aesthetic who will laud anything that's different. By the time I came to a sequence featuring Evan Mendes that goes too over-the-top with its considerable lack of subtlety and artistic restraint, the film had lost my investment entirely, yet continued to plummet deeper and deeper into uncompellingness that is really never absent at any point in this film, for although there are relatively interesting occasions within this misfire in experimental storytelling, investment goes consistently distanced by wierdness' and subtlety issues' hardly being the only problems within Leos Carax's script, whose story's believability as a character piece and development were most definately never to be too meaty, but go much too far in their thinness, to where initial investment is never truly planted, yet somehow undercut time and again by character actions that dance past the boundaries of suspension of disbelief. Of course, to be totally honest, you'd be lucky to get issues like those, for in order for characterization issues to exist, plot has to exist, as it ever so rarely does in this film, which is all but devoid of actual structure, featuring no real beginning, middle or end, just total aimlessness, with no consistency or grip on steam that quickly and surely falls right off the map as this film limply progresses with no actual sign of progression. Okay, maybe I was going a bit too far in saying that there is no consistency to this film's non-plot, because if nothing else is consistent about this film, then it's its being so do-nothing, and even then, the degree of aimlessness in this film is all over the place, being never absent, but sometimes secured through your traditional expendable moments, and often made unreal in its immensity by sequences that are exceedingly overblown by exhaustingly overlong meditations upon unraveling throw-away actions (Imagine the process of someone walking two feet, only it's two or three times slower than usual and revisited time and again for two hours), if not totally superfluous material and, of course, overwhelming monotony. I can go on all day with jokes about how I would prefer it if this film's runtime was cut down 0 microseconds, but really, at very nearly two hours, this film could have easily lost more than half of its material, because when they say that this film's narrative is challenging, they are not kidding, as this is a film that follows an airtight pattern, repeated a countless number of times, and bloated to no end every time, and such an issue is not forgivable, and is made even less so by Carax's directorial atmosphere's being [b][u]"punishingly"[/u][/b] (I always wanted to use that adverb) dry, providing nearly no liveliness to compensate for this film's being devoid of dialogue for at least half of its entire course, until what you're left with is a paceless film that makes you very every overblown and thoroughly uncompelling beat. Outside of the ever so occasional mildly fun musical number, there is pretty much nothing entertaining about the experience of watching this disaster, and sure, plenty of films have gone saved by their being too bland to be bad, with someone like Terrence Malick actually managing to figure out how to make good movies that have nearly no entertainment value (Don't get me wrong, all of his films squander potential, but at least the ones that he has been doing since "The Thin Red Line" have been reasonably compelling), but the thing about this film is that it is too aimless, boring and, of course, pretentious, boasting a kind of self-righteousness that can be found in almost every film of this type, but rarely on this level, to where the final product truly offends as an arrogant bore that is not simply not likable, but near-despicable, with enough strengths to keep it from plummeting any further than bad, but not enough to keep bad from hitting the scene hard.
In the ever so welcomed end, a disaster goes somewhat padded by a handsome visual style, impressive makeup effects, a reasonably engaging and transformative lead performance by Denis Lavant, and some ever so mild degree of intrigue spawned from this film's being, if nothing else, audaciously original, yet the final product still breaks through the padding as utterly unenjoyable, with too much weirdness and not enough thematic subtlety, as well as characterization issues in what plotting there is within in this aimlessly structureless non-plot, whose tedious course goes bloated by exceeding dragging and monotony, and exacerbated by a punishing dullness in atmosphere, whose boasting too much in the way of offensive arrogance pulls the last straw and leaves "Holy Motors" to crash as a pointless, uncompelling and altogether terribly boring disaster that I, unlike plenty of other, untrustworthy critics, cannot recommend to anyone as anything more than a cure for insomnia and towering testament to how misguided "art" can get.
1.5/5 - Bad