Sunday, November 25, 2012
Written and directed by Leos Carax, Holy Motors is the story about a man who travels throughout Paris inhabiting many personalities in the course of a day. The film is an unconventional story that revolves around cinema and a man changing from one personality to another in order to play a role in what is needed in life. Starring Denis Lavant, Eva Mendes, Edith Scob, Michel Piccoli, Elise L’Homeau, and Kylie Minogue. Holy Motors is a strange yet intoxicating film from Leos Carax.
The film is essentially the story about a man named Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) who spends his entire day inhabiting many personalities as part of his job. In this day, he spends his time in many different stories in very different genres as if he’s recreating moments or doing something as part of his job. In these different assignments, he meets various people in the course of a day as he’s often accompanied by his driver Celine (Edith Scob). It’s all part of a world that Leos Carax is creating where it blends fiction and reality where nothing is as it seems. Particularly as he transcends many different genres from comedy, romance, musical, film noir, the gangster film, and everything else in between for what is certainly an unconventional story.
Part of Carax’s approach to the screenplay is the fact that it doesn’t have a structure nor does it reveal anything into whether or not this story about a man inhabiting many personalities is real. Especially as the film opens with a different man (Leos Carax) opening a door in his apartment to enter a cinema where the audience is watching King Vidor’s The Crowd. It adds to the ambiguity that is part of this story where it asks many questions into what is happening. Is Mr. Oscar playing these personalities to fill something that is lost in the world? Are these personalities that the people encounter all part of an act or to create something shocking? Are the people part of the act that is happening?
These are the many questions that is happening in the course of the film as its narrative is approach in an episodic manner. Yet, it works as each personality that Mr. Oscar plays does manage to get people up in the air as the moments start to become more overwhelming and much crazier. Notably as there’s brief breaks where Mr. Oscar has to do something where it adds more question to the job that he’s doing. It’s all part of the schematics that Carax is creating where he raises the stakes for each adventure that Mr. Oscar is encountering. What become more intriguing as the story progresses is the people he’s meeting where they could be part of this strange agency.
Carax’s direction is definitely stylish in terms of the presentation that he’s creating for the film. Shot largely on location in Paris and nearby towns, it’s a world where things aren’t very real where it’s all about the world these personalities inhabit such as a gravesite, a film studio, an abandoned hotel, a suburb, and all sorts of places. Part of which takes place inside a big limousine where Oscar does all of his makeup work and prepares for each assignment he takes part on during the day. Carax has a stylish intimacy for these scenes where it feels large but also small at times while Mr. Oscar is always looking at a TV screen where he talks to Celine. Celine’s role is really that of a companion who ensures that he does his job and returns to his limo as she often shows maternal concern for him.
Since this is a film where reality doesn’t really exist, it’s also a film that features a lot of references to films as it is in some ways a tribute to cinema. In the middle of the film, there’s a break where Mr. Oscar plays the accordion with a bunch of musicians as a camera follows them in a tracking shot where they’re playing inside a church. It’s part of that idea of what cinema once was where there is a lot of fantasy and everyone is playing something. There’s also an element of the musical where it is clear that Carax is aiming for something that harkens back to times when cinema was about a whole lot more. Largely as Carax employs a lot of stylistic shots to create something big as Paris itself is a character in the film. Overall, Carax creates a very exhilarating yet strange spectacle that is a real love letter to cinema.
Cinematographers Caroline Champetier and Yves Cape do excellent work with the film‘s very stylish photography from the colorful look of the locations in Paris in day and night to some of the more weirder shots to explore Mr. Oscar‘s troubled mind. Editor Nelly Quetier does brilliant work with the editing by utilizing lots of stylish cuts to play with the film‘s rhythm as well as creating unique transitions for the film to move from one story to another. Production designer Florian Sanson and art director Emmanuelle Cuillery do amazing work with the set pieces in the film such as the limousine that Mr. Oscar lives in to some of the places like the abandoned hotel, the studio set, and the cave that his personalities inhabit.
Costume designer Anais Romand does wonderful work with the different costumes that Mr. Oscar wears along with some of the clothes of the people he encounters in his journey. Hair and makeup designer Bernard Floch does terrific work with the hair and makeup work that Mr. Oscar puts into all of the personalities he creates. Visual effects supervisors Yoann Berger and Alexandre Bon do nice work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects which is most notable in the motion-capture scene that Mr. Oscar participates in. The sound work of Emmanuel Croset and Erwan Kerzanet is superb for the atmosphere it creates in the different locations that occur as well as the intimacy in the limousine.
The film’s soundtrack features an array of different music ranging from classical pieces by Dmitri Shostakovich, a score piece from the movie Godzilla by Akira Ifukube, and other music pieces by R.L. Burnside, Manset, Sparks, and Kylie Minogue. Minogue also sings an original song written by Leos Carax and Neil Hannon that is for the film’s lone musical number as it serves as a great tribute to cinema.
The casting by Elsa Pharaon is phenomenal for the small ensemble that is created as it features noteworthy performances from Jeanne Disson as a troubled teenager, Elisse L’Homeau as a nurse caring for her uncle, Geoffrey Carey as an obsessed photographer, Annabelle Dexter-Jones as the photographer’s assistant, and Leos Carax as the mysterious man in the film’s opening scene. Michel Piccoli is excellent in a small but memorable performance as a man who is probably Mr. Oscar’s boss as he questions about the status of his appointments. Eva Mendes is wonderful as a model that one of Mr. Oscar’s characters is infatuated by where Mendes is mesmerizing. Kylie Minogue is terrific as the mysterious Jean who joins Mr. Oscar in a very memorable scene where she sings a song.
Edith Scob is amazing as Mr. Oscar’s limo driver Celine as she makes sure he comes back from his appointments while worrying about his well-being after each assignment. Finally, there’s Denis Lavant in an incredible performance as Mr. Oscar and the many personalities he inhabits. It’s a truly riveting performance that has Lavant take on so many things including the Mr. Merde character that he played in the Merde segment in the anthology film Tokyo! It’s also a performance that allows Lavant to showcase his range from comedy, drama, and all sorts of things as it’s definitely one for the ages.
Holy Motors is an outstanding film from Leos Carax that features triumphant performances from Denis Lavant and Edith Scob. Along with top-notch supporting work from Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes, and Michel Piccoli, it’s a film that is truly a true love-letter to the art of cinema as well as a film that dares to be unconventional and uncompromising without giving any kind of answers or meaning. In the end, Holy Motors is an extraordinary yet out-of-this-world film from Leos Carax.
Leos Carax Films: Boy Meets Girl - Mauvais Sang - Les Amants du Pont-Neuf - Pola X - Tokyo!: Merde - Annette - The Auteurs #36: Leos Carax
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