The 1949 Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets starred the fantastic Alec Guinness playing nine characters and with Holy Motors Denis Lavant goes that little bit further by playing 11. It’s also a damn sight more abstract.
Lavant is the star. It is staggering how many times he must morph into a new incarnation, each so diametrical opposed to the previous. Whether it is beggar, banker, monster, father, accordionist, killer or lover, he inhabits each role with such conviction and emotion we can’t help but disappear with him into his new reality. Why all the roles? He starts his day saying goodbye to his family and is driven around in a white limousine by Celine (Edith Scob) who presents him with different appointments (9 in total), which he must carry out over the rest of the day.
The film is therefore given some structure in so far as we know how many parts Lavant must take on. This is a key factor to the enjoyment of the film, without it, it would seem unending and perhaps a little bit unbearable. The film mainly concerns itself with the notion or concept that we are all actors in our own right with different scenarios for each situation. We adapt and overcome all the time hiding our true personalities. It is widely open to interpretation on many fronts – a throwaway remark by Levant asking whether any roles are to be in the forest results in him saying how he misses the forest, which could be a view that we have moved away from nature and confine ourselves to unending urban sprawl.
Of course there is a danger of analysing too much, I was reminded of when Gabriel Byrne asked the Coens brothers about his motivation for chasing his hat in Miller’s Crossing and they replied “well it fell off his head and the wind blew it so he’s chasing it”. This is part of the magic of Holy Motors as so much is open to interpretation. The most visually astounding scene is where Lavant takes on the role of a motion capture worker and we see how this is transferred into a computer graphic world. This sequence could be taken as a commentary on the notion of cyber relationships and the increase in pornography, but one thing is certain, it looks superb.
While the show is certainly Levant’s, there are some good cameos. Well one anyway, Kylie Minogue turns in a great performance as a lost love and this is one of the few scenes that give the piece a real emotional core. Eva Mendes is (pun alert) pretty pointless, however her scene is one of the most graphic and confusing so kudos for trusting in the director and allowing herself to be put in that situation. Edith Scob is great as his limo driver carefully chauffeuring him on his extraordinary journey.
Some will see it as pretentious French nonsense, meaningless, aloof and devoid of merit. Others will see its surreal beauty, the depiction of the melancholia of life and the musings about existence as a bold piece of art. For me there are three broad types of film, film as entertainment, film as information in the form of documentary and film as art. Some cross over boundaries, the best often do and everyone has their favourite category. The more time I’ve had to ponder and mull over the piece the more scenes keep coming back to me which can only speak to the brilliance of the film.
Holy Motors is a visual and cerebral feast for the open minded and patient, full of scenes which will stay with you for years to come. I didn’t even mention David Lynch once either, oh wait, damn it!
France / Directed By: Leos Carax / Written By: Leos Carax / Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes / 115min / Drama / Release: 28 September 2012 (UK/Ireland)