Holy Motors has been promoted to the List! Please check the Holy Motors Certified Weird entry for more information and to comment. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.
DIRECTED BY: Leos Carax
FEATURING: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Michel Piccoli
PLOT: “Mr. Oscar” drives around Paris in a limo taking on nine “assignments” which require him to become an accordion player, a hitman, and fashion model-abducting leprechaun, among other personae.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Holy Motors is overwrought, pretentious, obscure, scatterbrained, confusing, and self-indulgent—all qualities that typically make for a great work of art. The main knock against it certifying it as one of the 366 Best Weird Movies immediately is that it’s not yet out on DVD—but keep an eye out for it in the near future.
COMMENTS: Leos Carax’ segment in the portmanteau film Tokyo! revolved around a gimpy, gibbering leprechaun dubbed “Merde” (played by Denis Lavant) who arose from the sewers to scandalize the polite people of Japan by eating money and licking schoolgirls on the street. In that movie Merde served as a symbol of Japanese xenophobia, a surreal and satirical rendition of boorish Western invaders as seen through Eastern eyes. Lavant reprises Merde in Holy Motors, but here the character is even more random, limping through a Parisian cemetery eating flowers off of gravesites and abducting a fashion model (Eva Mendes) with the backbone of a rag doll. The idea that an already mysterious and absurd character like Merde would be resurrected and tossed into a situation that’s even further out of context is typical of Holy Motors‘ approach. In between a very weird prologue featuring director Carax as a man living in a secret room behind a cinema where shadowy beasts prowl the aisles, and very weird epilogue featuring chauffeuse Edith Scob and a parking lot full of telepathic limousines, Lavant (presumably) plays ten different roles—nine “assignments” and his base character of “Mr. Oscar.” There are no connections between the parts he is assigned: some, like Merde, are purely absurd, some are musical, and some are legitimately moving human moments. Each segment operates according to its own internal illogic. The roles are arbitrary, like the jobs any working actor would take: this month an action hero, next month a dying benefactor. At times we see, or at least think we see, hints of the “real” person behind Mr. Oscar, but mostly we see him applying his makeup in front of his mobile vanity mirror, preparing to disappear into a new role. It’s never suggested what the purpose of these performances might be, or whom they are for the benefit of, or if they ever end (when Oscar goes home for the night, it appears he is only playing another insane character). Scenes that appear to involve Mr. Oscar as “real” person sometimes turn out to be part of another assignment; if we try to figure out who Oscar really is, we’re continually frustrated. By the end of the long twenty-four hour session Mr. Oscar looks weary, sad and resigned; but he must wake up in the morning and do it all over again. It’s a bravura suite of performances by Lavant, who is appointed to capture the whole strange and tragic spectrum of human activity in a single day. In Carax’ eyes this spectrum involves motion-capture sex scenes, accordion intermissions, and mixed human-chimpanzee marriages. Prepare to be perplexed. You won’t, however, be bored.
Carax assembled a fascinating cast for his first feature film in over a decade. Gnarly faced Lavant, who has appeared in all of the director’s previous films as well as gracing weird works by Veit Helmer, Harmony Korine and Veiko Õunpuu, was the obvious choice for the lead in the most ambitiously odd art film of the French calendar. The casting of Scob and Piccoli, who between them have worked with all of the great European Surrealist filmmakers of the past, from Franjou to Ferreri to Buñuel, is an equally obvious nod to Carax’ influences, one that positions Motors as the latest link in a long cinematic chain. Australian popstress Kylie Minogue immediately scores unexpected cool points by appearing in this project, while glamour girl Eva Mendes follows up her role in Herzog‘s Bad Lieutenant with this even weirder part. We definitely approve of the way her career is headed (even though her recent choices probably make her agent tear his hair out).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…weird and wonderful, rich and strange – barking mad, in fact. It is wayward, kaleidoscopic, black comic and bizarre; there is in it a batsqueak of genius, dishevelment and derangement; it is captivating and compelling.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “Dwarf Oscar,” who said it was “weird, weird, weird. You already guessed, I know that, but right now I’m making it official. For once, I’m pretty confident it’s going to make its way to the List…” . Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)