Where to begin? Holy Motors is a madcap hobgoblin of a movie, a creature so kaleidoscopic, so bizarre and so utterly devoid of convention that it makes a strong argument for being one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly one of the most original.
Don’t expect a plot; there’s no three-act structure here – even Tarantino isn’t this outlandish. Instead, French writer-director Leos Carax follows the many stories of Monsieur Oscar, an actor who’s chauffeured around Paris in a white limousine for a single day. Oscar has nine appointments that he must keep, and each appointment requires him to assume a different persona. One minute he’s an old woman begging for money and the next he’s a gnarly leprechaun terrorising a graveyard, something of a manic troglodyte with an appetite for fingers. Later in the film Kylie Minogue even turns up to sing and reminisce (of course she sings!). There’s really nothing linking these vignettes aside from main star Denis Lavant, a Carax regular whose malleable face allows him to assume various roles with ease.
Again, on face value there’s nothing really linking the nine appointments. They’re thematically diverse and entirely unrelated. It seems like Carax’s goal with Holy Motors was to create an experience that encompasses virtually every possible emotion that film can evoke. At one point I was laughing hysterically at what might have been a scene from a slapstick comedy (with bite!) but then a few seconds later I was cringing at an exploitative nude sequence that put Game of Thrones to shame. Many such scenes exist solely to stir up a particular emotion. Make no mistake, Holy Motors is a whirlwind, a veritable blur of sounds, images and genres. When all was said and done I was quite literally stunned by what I’d seen – I really wish there’d been a camera filming the audience’s reactions. Words failed me and I wasn’t sure whether I’d just witnessed a work of genius or if I’d been violated by a madman with a camera. I’m still not sure.
Beneath the general eccentricity of the production however, there’s a commentary by Carax on the state of the film industry, on the march of technology and on the digitalisation of society. Cameras used to be big and bulky but now they can be small and almost invisible, and so it is that Oscar finds himself in Holy Motors as an actor performing with an invisible director and invisible crew. It’s therefore a film about ideas and is likely to stimulate erudite conversation (after all variations of ‘what the hell was that?’ have been exhausted), but it has no story and no characters worth caring about. It lacks heart, and is memorable only insofar that it’s out there and unique. Indeed, while Holy Motors might be an experience that I’m not likely to forget it’s also one that I’m not keen to subject myself to ever again.
Utterly bizarre and unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Holy Motors evokes just about every emotion possible but does so without heart. Plotless but not entirely pointless.