Director Leos Carax hasn’t released a feature film for 13 long years. His last was ‘Pola X’, which many have said was vastly underrated. Seeing Holy Motors, you might think that the reason for this Carax film void is because it’s taken him 13 years to dream this stunning film up – in all its bonkers and eclectic glory. But it turns out that he’s been furiously trying to release an English spoken film for the duration of these years, and has now instead opted to release in French, with the hope that this will elevate him to the mainstream again. The imagination and scripting of this hugely visually striking film – which was hotly tipped to win the Palm D’Or at Cannes this year – only took Carax a meer ten weeks. In my mind, this fact alone solidifies him as a real cinematic genius – a gift from the creative gods to our generation – and for many generations to come. He clearly has a ‘brain less ordinary’, and seeing him speak during the ‘Holy Motors’ UK premiere Q&A last night really proved this. He had the audience (bar the crazed Kylie superfans, of course), hanging on every one of his softly spoken, poignant words, which undulated and melted through the air like butterflies of creative brilliance. Nope, I’m not writing this piece whilst drunk – he just really was that good.
The film is set in the eerie streets of Paris. Denis Lavant – Carax’s failsafe actor of choice – plays Monsieur Oscar, a character of inexplicable background, inexplicable purpose, and certainly of inexplicable future. He is chauffeured around in a glitzy white stretch limo by his driver Celine (Edith Scob), and has a fully kitted out dressing room in the back of the car. He has a series of ‘appointments’ – each of which is pre-empted by a folder of instructions given to him in a leather wallet. We see him play a flower munching tramp, a latex suit wearing motion-capture worker, an assassin who seems to kill someone who turns out to be… himself, an old man on his death bed – and a few more that are just so brilliantly weird I couldn’t possibly ruin the surprise of.
Each sequence sees Oscar exude what seems like genuine emotion and commitment to each character and situation. There is no obvious link between each ‘appointment’ – but the one thing they do have all in common is that they progressively push you further and further into the corners of your imagination. Throughout the film, I found Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ naturally springing to mind when trying to make some sense out of when it was set, what it’s alluding to, or what it’s trying to say to the viewer. My recommendation however would be to let the film do its work, and don’t spend too much time thinking ‘why?’ The only answer you’ll get back is an outright – ‘why the hell not?’ Let the film gently seduce you into these corners, and see how long you dare stay there.
Carax said last night that he set out wanting to make a science fiction film, but that ‘Holy Motors’ is without a doubt more fiction than science. The limos in the film represent fiction, he said – his fascination being rooted in the fact these vehicles are only ever rented, never bought – meaning the stories that these cumbersome beasts house are so varied, you couldn’t begin to possibly imagine. Only Carax did imagine, and hereby presented us with the brilliant ‘Holy Motors’. Certainly audacious and arguably teetering right on the border with arrogant – this is a film that is both sexy and morbid at the same time, and has had the treatment of a director who I can only hope doesn’t have to wait another 13 years to release another feature film.
4.5 out of 5
Unconsciously reiterates the sheer glory of re-creation and re-imagination. Holy Motors may be too freely subjective for some, but Carax’s challenge to cinematic form is hugely brave and should be duly credited. Do not miss.
Watched at: Curzon Mayfair (out in UK cinemas Friday 28 September)