Strange Cinema: Holy Motors (2012)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.


Holy Motors (2012)
Director: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, & Kylie Minogue

What’s it about?
Mr. Oscar and his associate, Céline, drive around Paris as Mr. Oscar takes on several different roles and performs for apparently no cameras or audience.

Is it any good?
Good is an understatement for this one. Wow, what an incredible film. Definitely difficult to decipher, but rewarding nonetheless. If you go into this film knowing nothing about the plot (like I did), you’ll be confused almost immediately. Holy Motors doesn’t actually start with Mr. Oscar’s story. Instead, we cut a cold open featuring a character called “The Sleeper” as he opens a hidden door in his bedroom and steps into a packed movie theater. We never see this character again, but I think there’s a connection (but we’ll get to that later).

So Mr. Oscar travels around Paris in a white limo filled with costumes and makeup. He has different “appointments,” which consist of him dressing up as various characters and performing various roles for no one in particular. Oscar’s performances include an old woman beggar, an acrobat in a motion capture suit, and an eccentric and violent man named Monsieur Merde (literally “Mister Shit”) who kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes). None of the characters are connected, so the entire film kind of plays out like a series of vignettes. The quick character changes with Oscar really keep you engaged, which is another plus for this film.

There are so many indelible images that I can’t really choose my favorite. One of the highlights is definitely the Monsieur Merde sequence. The details in Oscar’s costume are so meticulous. And his mannerisms are delightfully bizarre. He eats flowers, chain-smokes, and bites people’s fingers off. And when he kidnaps Eva Mendes’ character, he just kind of uses her as another prop (problematic in any other film, but this is an art film). Monsieur Merde actually uses pieces of Eva’s dress to cover every inch of skin on her body, much like a burqa.

Another personal highlight for me is the accordion scene. Oscar joins a large group of accordion players and plays a song while they all march through the streets. This was actually the first scene I saw from the film and it enticed me enough to watch the whole thing.

If you glanced at the cast up at the top, you were probably surprised to see Kylie Minogue. Her role is brief, but the scene she’s in is fantastic. It’s unclear whether this is out of character or just another appointment, but Oscar and Eva (Minogue) talk in an abandoned building, apparently catching up on over 20 years. It’s suggested that they have a child together, but grew apart. Oscar leaves and narrowly avoids Eva’s new beau. Oscar watches as both Eva and her partner jump to their deaths. Part of me believes this is not another appointment because Eva also rides in a white limo (suggesting that she is also an “actor” of sorts) and Oscar recognizes her. But I could be wrong.

As for the connection between the opening scene and the rest of the film, I think the movie theater The Sleeper walks into is the only place where people can view the performances of Oscar and his colleagues. They appear to be performing for no one, but perhaps there’s an alternate universe where people can actually see these as short films.

Grade: A (for an original concept and plenty of different scenarios)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you wonder which of your friends are actually just actors)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

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