Amazing ‘Holy Motors’ a shapeshifting film

Courtesy PhotoAlways changing: Monsieur Oscar

Courtesy PhotoAlways changing: Monsieur Oscar

“Holy Motors” is only the fifth feature film in 28 years by Leos Carax, who is perhaps the most mesmerizing, poetic and baffling filmmaker in France.

His best film, “Les Amants du Pont-Neuf” — released here in 1999 as “The Lovers on the Bridge” — reached the glorious, grandiose heights of passion that “Gone with the Wind” and “Titanic” were praised for.

On the other hand, the amazing “Holy Motors” is more about the remnants of passion.

#link_box { width: 150px; height: auto; margin: 0; padding: 0; margin: 10px 20px 10px 0px; padding: 10px; background-color: #fbfade; /* ecru – light yellow */ border: 1px solid #343a25; /* green – for summer arts */ float: left; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-size: 11px; } #link_box img, #link_box a { border 0px; border-style: none; outline: none; } #link_box h1 { margin: 0; padding: 5px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; text-transform: none; color: #8A0808; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-weight: bold; font-size: 12px; text-align: center; } #link_box h2 { margin: 0; padding: 5px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; text-transform: none; color: #000; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-weight: bold; font-size: 10px; text-align: center; } #link_box ul { list-style: none; margin: 0; padding: 0; border: none; } #link_box li { margin: 0px padding: 0px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; border-bottom-width: 1px; } #link_box li a { display: block; padding: 5px 5px 5px 15px; /* Padding for bullet */ /* border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; border-bottom-width: 1px; */ color: #000; width: 100%; width: auto; /* height: auto; */ /* border: 1px solid blue; */ margin: 0px; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-size: 11px; line-height: 14px; text-decoration: none; } #link_box li a: before { /* background-position: top left; */ } #link_box li a:hover { background-color: #ddd; color: #000; }

Denis Lavant, the gravel-faced star of four of Carax's features, stars as Monsieur Oscar, a mysterious figure with a strange job. Over the course of a day, he rides around in the back of a limo, donning different costumes and applications of makeup for various “appointments.” He becomes an old lady beggar, a gangster and a dying old man. He puts on a motion-capture suit — a Cirque du Soleil-esque bodysuit with lights — and performs some sexualized acrobatics with a female co-star.

He also becomes a vile thing known as “merde” — last seen in Carax's segment of the 2009 anthology film “Tokyo!” — a bizarre, violent sewer dweller with fire-red hair and a milky-white eye. This creature kidnaps a beautiful model (Eva Mendes) during a photo shoot in a cemetery.

Later, Oscar runs into a woman (Kylie Minogue) who may have been a former love, and who seems to be doing the same kind of job. They share a tender song.

Like many of his fellow French filmmakers, Carax was once a film critic, and his films ponder the nature of films and storytelling as much as they tell stories. He pays tribute to King Vidor’s “The Crowd” and Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face.” Edith Scob, who plays Monsieur Oscar's compassionate limo driver, was the star of the latter.

The various segments clearly represent different film genres: the musical, the horror film, the weepie, etc. The movie is, by turns, haunting, moving and shocking.

But Carax also asks questions about the nature of performance. Is Monsieur Oscar performing for anyone in particular, or maybe everyone in general? Does he ever get to be “himself,” even behind the scenes? In the movie’s most human moments, we see Oscar growing weary, perhaps not even remembering why he’s doing this kind of work.

The movie’s final moments are among its most bizarre, raising more questions than they answer. We all have masks we wear, the movie seems to say, and none of us know truly who we are — not even talking cars.

artsentertainmentEva MendesKylie MinogueMovies

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City College union deal staves off layoffs, class cuts

One year agreement allows community college time to improve its finances

A Homeless Outreach Team member speaks with homeless people along Jones Street in the Tenderloin on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Breed proposes another street outreach team to divert calls away from police

San Francisco would launch a new street outreach team to respond to… Continue reading

Chelsea Hung, who owns Washington Bakery and Restaurant in Chinatown with her mother, said the restaurant is only making about 30 percent of pre-pandemic revenues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chinatown’s slow recovery has business owners fearing for the future

Lack of outside visitors threatens to push neighborhood into ‘downward spiral’

A worker sets up irrigation lines to water almond tree rootstocks along Road 36 in Tulare, Calif. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Gov. Gavin Newsom extends drought emergency to 41 California counties

Faith E. Pinho Los Angeles Times In a stark indication of California’s… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new stimulus plan on Monday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner file photo)
More Californians would get new $600 stimulus checks from the state under Newsom plan

Sophia Bollag The Sacramento Bee Two-thirds of Californians would get an extra… Continue reading

Most Read