Leos Carax’s existential mind-trip begins with a cinema audience staring at you, curious sounds emanating from the unseen screen, the audience static, letting it wash over them.
Then a man waking from slumber, walking around his room, and it’s clear we’re in abstract territory, in the vein of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Surreal, strange, dreamlike. What is the significance of the weird contraption on the man’s finger? The forest wallpaper adorning the walls? What’s going on?
We are introduced to a father leaving his expensive looking home, child waving goodbye and wishing him a good day at work. He enters a limo which is driven by Celine (Edith Scob).
Denis Lavant’s character is transformed into his first character in this limo, exiting as a different person. From his appearance and body language to his voice and personality, the transformation is flawless.
He will spend the next few hours cruising around Paris, exiting the limo as a stranger partaking in an organised frenzy of role-playing, sometimes in collaboration with others just like him.
The mood is heavy and David Lynch-like in vibe. The most disturbing segment features an insane gremlin monster leprechaun hybrid on a rampage featuring a bizarrely inscrutable and hilariously deadpan Eva Mendes.
One of Lavant’s roles is to pick up his ‘daughter’ from a party, in a heart-breaking encounter, but on he goes onto the next role unrelenting. The onslaught of role after role weighs him down as much as the visual journey weighs the viewer.
Midway through we are treated to one of the best musical interludes ever, with Lavant strolling with an accordion and ending with an entire gang trailing behind him with various instruments.
Kylie Minogue gives a great performance as a long lost love intersecting with his path during the night, and makes use of her vocal talents as well.
Holy Motors has been given praise for a variety of reasons, the most common I’ve noticed is its love for the magic of cinema, with emphasis on the viewer’s enjoyment of the narrative-breaking adventure. However I saw it from the actor’s perspective. I’m not an actor myself, but I believe the film must be adored by actors as its about their livelihood, their desires and fears, the unreality they experience hopping from one role to another, the splintering of their identities, the emptiness in between roles, the rush of an unforgettable performance, the demanding professionalism that’s required, the disappointment of encroaching technology, the inability to maintain relationships.
An utterly fearless film, bold and so European it hurts. Only the most ardent of film-lovers will appreciate this endeavour though. The masses will be too terrified by its roaring engine, powered as it is by Carax and Lavant.
Also posted at film-news.co.uk