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Ten Word or Less Review: Fascinating + Stupid = Holy Motors.  (Fascistupid?)

10, 9, 10, 2, 1, 10, 9, 10, 1, 1, 2, 9, 10…..Look up Holy Motors on IMDB and these are the audience responses you will find.  In one corner you have adoring fans who find the movie’s quixotic nature a joy to behold.  They see an enigmatic treasure of groundbreaking cinema to be studied over and watched again and again, looking for answers in its warped pseudo narrative.  The other side says these people are full of crap and that Holy Motors is just mumbo jumbo nonsense elevated by French pretension and that director Leo Carax has done nothing more than assemble a collection of self-indulgent, art movie bullshit posing as high minded cinema.  So which side is right?  Both.

Motors starts in a movie theater full of people looking at the screen.  From there we go into a bedroom where we find Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), the transforming man we will follow for the duration.  Oscar wakes up and unlocks a wall with a key that’s a physical extension of his finger.  He winds up in the theater with the audience along with a large dog.  We then find Oscar in a modern home with family and bodyguards leaving for the morning and getting into a limo.  In the limo he talks money matters on the phone and as he hangs up the real day begins.  Oscar receives dossiers and starts creating new personas through costume and makeup which he will play through out the day.  A short, bald, stringy looking older fellow, Oscar will become a hunchbacked elderly woman, a motion capture subject covered in dots indulging in simulated lust, a voracious and dangerous, green suited vagrant who consumes flowers and fingers.  He’ll be a gangster, a judgmental, unforgiving father, a man about to die and he’ll even have a musical interlude made up of dozens of guitars and accordion players.  So this movie is about what actually?

That’s where most people either loose patience with or become entranced by Holy Motors.  Do not we as movie goers spend our entire movie going life watching one person become numerous people?  Is Motors about the nature of performance and how the audience responds to the watching of one person become numerous people?  Is it strictly an avant-garde interpretation of the performers life?  Does an actor who plays so many identities have any identity of their own?  Maybe Motors is more literal than that, though I doubt it.  It is inferred in one scene that an audience of some sort is watching Oscar and the various roles he inhabits.  We also learn that Oscar is not the only one running around in a limo going from one scene to the next.  An entire fleet of limos is shuttling people like Oscar from one place to the next for unknowable reasons.  But Oscar also kills a banker not involved in his ‘performances’ and is subsequently shot and killed in the process.  But once taken back to the limo by his trusty driver he’s fine.  So there goes a literal explanation.

To the chagrin and annoyance of many no easy answer is lying out there for you to grab.  You can infer your own solutions or lay ideas over the movie but solid answers are not here to be seen and its innate Frenchieness is also at the heart of those who feel antagonized and annoyed while they’re watching.  There are moments peppered through out Holy Motors which high minded art film fans will label as comically surreal.  Some others of us will call these scenes moronic and stupid.  As Oscar winds down for the day, arriving at his last destination, he takes on the guise of an average working man.  Does Oscar go into a suburban home with a wife and kid and wind down with dinner and a glass of wine?  No, he lives with two monkeys.  After his insane vagrant persona kidnaps model Eva Mendes from a photo shoot, biting off the fingers of a photo assistant in the process, he does what with her?  He takes her into a cave, repurposes her high fashion garments into Arabic garb while stripping naked and sporting a boner.  He then cuddles up next to her and goes to sleep.  You figure it out.  It’s these asinine moments that tip Motors out of the realm of spontaneous, kinetic fun and into head scratching buffoonery.  It’s as if we’re watching someone create a film based on stream of conscience imagination through, strange uncharted waters who subsequently dives over the waterfall of unorthodox possibilities.  And as they make that incredible leap, they moon you and fart as they go over the edge.

The constant unknowable is what makes Motors such a massively divisive experience among viewers.  Reading through reviews for the film it’s clear you have to have a PHD in French cinema and previous Carax movies to get all the references being bandied about.  Its intent is a guessing game of possibilities and its execution runs the gamut from brilliant and ballsy to brazenly stupid.  The people who give into its strange nature can make sound arguments for it’s existence and those who reject it outright can make equally compelling arguments.  I tend to think both explanations have pros and cons.  I have to admire a film as open to interpretation and so free of traditional narrative traps.  Neck deep in the age of tepid, corporate filmmaking finding a true example of the free and spontaneous is rare.  At the same time when the limos start talking to each other about their day I feel a crushing experience of stupidity hit me square in the face and it kind of annoys the shit out of me.

holy motors


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