Friday, December 7, 2012

Holy Motors

Leos Carax's headscratcher Holy Motors is pretty straightforward. A man named Monsieur Oscar is driven from "appointment" to "appointment" by his limo driver, Celine. We get the idea, as the appointments are completed, that Oscar's been in this business--whatever this business is--for too long. Oscar isn't quite at Murtagh-level of exhaustion, but is beginning to suffer from onset French ennui. When Holy Motors comes out on "home video," can I recommend a drinking game that has you and your buds bottoms-up whenever Oscar lights a cigarette?

Now, what are these "appointments" that Oscar is ambulated to over the course of the movie? I'm not actually sure. Each appointment comes with a dossier outlining a scenario. Then, in the back of his limo--which is basically a refined tickle trunk--Oscar dons the appropriate disguise. He becomes a beggar woman, a flower-eating troll, a hit man, and so forth, and either foists himself into situations or slides into them seemingly seamlessly. In a no-brain way, Holy Motors is just a day-in-the-life of Mr. Oscar and whatever it is he does.

Cinema Captain Peter Henderson summed up Holy Motors best: "It's film school." It's a film about film, about performance, about genre, about mimesis, as referential as a classic Simpsons episode. The best comparison I can make is to Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, which is about You trying to read Italo Calvino's new book, only to find that, through printing errors and conspiracy, the book is constantly being replaced by other stories that cover the whole gambit of literary genres. Sounds annoying and laborious, huh? Holy Motors is anything but. As confusing as it may be, it's also completely entertaining--it may be complete entertainment. Oscar himself is an appointment performed by Denis Lavant, one of the most satisfying, challenging performers I didn't know about until now. The film would be alienating if it weren't for Lavant's grounding, inviting presence. 

Like Calvio's book, Holy Motors is just as much about You as it is about whatever it's about. The movie begins with a shot of a movie theater full of people, as though seen from the screen's point of view. You could ruin this movie for yourself by worrying whether or not you're understanding it, or getting it. If this movie's about anything, it's about surfaces. The experience of and maybe even the enjoyment of surfaces is just as important as whatever's underneath. The only thing you're really responsible for, at first, is watching. So watch Holy Motors, keep your appointment.

If you're looking for elucidation afterwords, this discussion and this ejaculation might be of interest. 

(Also, if you're with me on this, I'd like to start using "Holy Motors" as an expression of astounded amazement. As in, "Holy Motors, Batman!")

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