‘Holy Motors’ has been that one film released this year that has garnered so much critical attention for its mere being that I was convinced all year it was going to be the best thing I’d ever seen. The amount of outlandish and unrestrained hyperbole that was spewed all over this film for months had me anticipating the second coming. It has me recalling when ‘Margaret’ was finally released after being shelved for like five years and people saw it and claimed it to be the most remarkable film they had ever laid eyes on. That was just a year ago. Already people have abandoned that notion and moved onto Leos Carax’s ‘Holy Motors’.
The similarity between the two entities doesn’t die there, for my reaction to each over-hyped masterpiece is the same; they are both the best and worst films of their respective years, which leaves me at a bit of a crossroads as far as my own personal attachment to the piece is concerned.
The main focal point of almost all the ‘talk’ surrounding ‘Holy Motors’ has been the fact that absolutely no one has any idea what this film is about, and so by virtue of that sentiment it must be about all things at once, thus becoming the only film in the history of cinema to say everything there is to say about absolutely nothing at all. I concur with this assessment because, when all is said and done and the limousines have stopped talking to one another I feel as though I have experiences something completely unlike anything else and yet I have no idea what it is that I have just experienced. Somewhere between the makeshift parade through the streets and the Disney inspired swan song in an abandoned building this film gained and lost and then gained me again and yet I’m still struggling to put any of it all together.
The basic gist of the story follows Mr. Oscar as he travels in a limo with Celine, his driver, from one appointment to the next. At each appointment he transforms into someone different and causes chaos of some sort, whether it be emotionally or physically. Each segment flows into the next, each feeling somewhat cohesive despite being drastically separate and by the end of the film they all seem to become a part of a larger whole. The many themes approached by this film are as varied and as complex as the many genres that the film tackles, explores and exemplifies. If balances the style with the substance in a way that I’ve never seen a film do before because the substance becomes a part of the style and visa-versa.
For the sake of trying to makes and tails of this film, and for the mere fact that that is what we are supposed to do with films like this, I’ll throw out some random thoughts I had while watching the film and see if any of them stick.
Carax, to me, seems to be exploring the death of cinema. That was one of the more overwhelming feelings I had while watching the film, as if Lavant’s Mr. Oscar represented cinema of the past and his journey to the film’s end was like watching it slowly become corroded by new entities and whims and eventually die out. It became conformed and ‘tired’; stripped of its life and buoyancy thanks to the weighted feeling of change. In a way, I felt as if this signified a deeper stance on the more universal feeling of life’s progression in general, the way that we as individuals fear adaptation and grow ‘tired’ of the pressure to conform.
But there is more.
Within each segment, we are introduced to various characters, not only through Lavant’s multi-faceted performance by through the various people he comes across. In each of these pairings we are shown another side to Mr. Oscar and thus given a chance to evaluate the themes of the film. The remorse of lives unfulfilled, the pain through stunted conversation and the tragedy of misunderstanding loom all over these acts and display a form of humanity that feels authentic and raw without becoming betrayed by theatrics (despite containing moments of outlandishness). The use of masks and makeup as a way to transcend daily routines give an air of melancholy with regard to the mundane quality of life as we live it and the need or desire to make it something more agreeable.
And yet I’m brought back to the central theme of film itself, for ‘Holy Motors’ is above all else (at least in my eyes) a film about film and the love of film and the passion behind keeping film alive.
All hyperbole aside, ‘Holy Motors’ is an experience. Depending on how you react to that experience will of course shape what it is you actually take away from it, but there is no denying that ‘Holy Motors’ is a film that defines film, whether that be in a good or bad way. There are few films that can rest on that merit alone. Whether you love or hate this film, the bottom line is that you lived it. Say what you must, but the film’s greatest asset is probably the fact that everyone walks away feeling something totally different, and so it has the ability to become all things to all people while seemingly being about absolutely nothing at all.