Deciphering a thematic constant through the films of 2012 depends on how you felt about the political landscape of the year. The anxiety that stems through many films of the year, whether it is a blockbuster like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises or an auteur’s musings in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis¸ are deeply rooted in the residual effects of the political and economic climate of 2011 going into the 2012 election. But, as if in response to the overwhelmingly anxious aura of our times, films aspiring for optimism and pure visceral engagement arose. Like a tale of great humanism in the face of catastrophe in Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible or stories of love amid handicaps in Ben Lewin’s The Sessions, Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, the cinematic terrain was at constant odds, trying to take the bad with the good.Read More
A nude man sporting a crooked erection is sung a lullaby by Eva Mendes, who had a chunk of her hair ripped out and consumed by the same man. The scene fades to black and Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) prepares for another exercise for the long day. This is how a scene plays in Leos Carax’ first feature film in over a decade. Surreal and trance-inducing, Holy Motors is less about subscribing to a clear-cut narrative structure and rather intends to toss its audience in its dreamscape universe. The best descriptor for the film comes from a character witnessing the carnage as he announces that it’s all “Weird! Weird! Weird!”
Holy Motors certainly makes no effort to present a clear narrative structure – its opening sequence in fact acknowledges and prepares the audience for what to expect. Images of an incoming plane, a man with a key for a hand, a movie theater, and a Hulot-inspired submarine/home structure, all comprise Holy Motors’ first five minutes. But if you’re willing to let the film’s whimsical dream logic overtake you, it all comes together to hypnotic effect. As Oscar takes on the role of a gypsy beggar to a motion-capture contortionist, there is no way or reason as to why he’s embarking on so many personas. He’s provided a folder outlining his next job and fulfills his duty as performer with dedication, even reassuming his fiendish monster persona from Carax’s short film in Tokyo!
What most poignantly struck me about Holy Motors was its central concern of celebrating acting as an art. While tiresome for a performer, especially when viewed for its on-and-off quality, the audience may at times lose awareness of the artistic integrity that comes with being an actor. Carax obviously admires what they do and with Lavant finds the perfect proxy to acknowledge the debt he owes to his performers. While Carax may have had difficulty finding funding for his film, this delay and the subsequent casting of Lavant in the lead role comes at just the right time. Still nimble enough to perform the picture’s many physical demands while convincingly weary-faced, Lavant is astounding in the lead role. He literally operates as man and monster, peasant and elite, male and female from one scene to another. Most of my reservations on Holy Motors upon watching it have really just been obscured in my memory as I focus on all of its audacious qualities. This wickedly original and surrealist picture succeeds for perhaps being the closest thing to a dream I could imagine and instilling a dreamlike quality in the way I recall it.