A homeless woman begs for money on a busy sidewalk. An action star shoots an elaborate weapons sequence in a motion capture suit. A dying man consoles his grieving daughter. What do these characters have in common? They are all the same man, hired by an unknown force to act out big budget Hollywood pictures in real life.
Holy Motors is an experimental film by writer/director Leos Carax. It hinges itself on the obsession with film itself. People go wild over narrative filmmaking even though it is a total fantasy. How would the same people respond when confronted with monsters, murder, mayhem, and tragedy in real life?
The closest comparison I can make is to Shion Sono’s Noriko’s Dinner Table. Both films involve characters hired to assume false identities and interact with real people. They both contain strict performance schedules, elaborate costume changes, and the absurdity that can only be created when people willingly participate in real world melodrama.
The difference is that Holy Motors uses this hired guns conceit as the substance of the film. There is no greater story arc because the mysterious Monsieur Oscar and his limo/mobile makeup/wardrobe trailer driver Celine do not change throughout the film. They know the job they are hired to do and they do it. Celine preps the file for the next act while Monsieur Oscar goes out and performs. She keeps him on schedule and gets him to each event on time. She herself acts when she has to in order to insure the secrecy of their shared occupational field.
Evaluating a film like Holy Motors comes down to how successful the experiment actually is. Does Holy Motors work on a conceptual level? I think so.
There’s something oddly satisfying about watching Monsieur Oscar adjust wigs, apply spirit gum, and remove prosthetics in between jobs. His character rips back the curtain on the effects-heavy nature of even a slice of life drama at this point.
Why is it so necessary to completely transform one actor into another when there’s bound to be an actor better suited to the role as written on the page? Is this level of difficulty and effort essential to how we need to view film? A wig is one thing, but reconstructing faces with latex and glue just to make an actor become another actors is something else.
Holy Motors explores a wide range of film genres, so the various scenarios can feel a little unbalanced. A strange mob/action scenario that came off as strange to me might make perfect sense to you while the musical sequences that worked for me might leave you cold. Leo Carax is clearly willing to alienate some of the audience some of the time to bring his vision to life. The result is a film that succeeds at its conceptual mission, sometimes at the expense of the audience.
Thoughts on Holy Motors? Sound off below.