After getting no sleep at the weekend I made the foolish decision of seeing Holy Motors late on Monday evening. Slouched down in my seat I teetered on the edge of consciousness for the full two-hour duration trying to keep a grasp on what little narrative there was and holding my eyes open just enough to be able to read the subtitles. Because I didn’t watch Holy Motors with a full quota of consciousness I don’t think it fair to properly review the film. Instead I will offer some words before wandering off to bed to catch up on the 15 hours of sleep I seem to be missing.
Holy Motors is a unique piece of French art house cinema which I am now going to struggle to synopsise. The main character is Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) and yet we never really get to know him. Instead we follow Oscar as he moves from appointment to appointment in a stretch limousine, constantly changing his face, posture, and outfit as he takes on various roles in the world. At one appointment Oscar is a beggar woman, the next he is a motion capture performer before moving on to play an evil model-kidnapping leprechaun and so on. The whole sequence of events is mind-boggling and dream-like – not least because I was occasionally asleep.
There’s no denying that Leos Carax has directed a beautiful film or that Denis Lavant provides a real showcase of his acting talents as he fully embodies eleven wildly different characters. There’s no denying as well that Kylie Minogue sings a truly heartbreaking song, that she sings it live, and that I want to play it to myself, drink red wine, and cry a little. However… there’s also no denying that I felt detached from Oscar as the majority of the time I spent with him he wasn’t being himself. Arguably with half my brain trying to escape and frolic in a dream world with the pretty girl from work, I wasn’t in the best position to relate with the character but I simply didn’t. Lavant did manage to radiate an inherent sadness and loneliness, something that must come with not having a life of your own but literally living vicariously through others.
Hang on, I think I’ve started to convince myself that Holy Motors is a good film. Thinking about it the idea at the centre of the film is pretty remarkable. There are many people in your day-to-day life that you only see for a few minutes a day. What is that woman you see on the train every day doing when you aren’t with her? Does she go on existing or does she hop in a limo and become the barista at your local Starbucks? Presumably she goes on existing, but can you be sure!? Ask her tomorrow, see what she says.
Holy Motors does have an interesting idea at its centre, is lovely to look at, and filled with fine acting… but the individual vignettes themselves weren’t necessarily making the most of the idea. For every scene in which Kylie Minogue breaks your heart there is another in which you watch two giant snake demons have graphic sex. At the film’s climax things take such a turn from the sublime to the ridiculous that I genuinely thought I may have dreamt it.
Certainly not terrible Holy Motors could well be considered a work of art. All I would say is that don’t see it without getting a full night’s sleep or the whole experience will become more than your emotionally unstable little brain can handle.
Kat’s note: If you are looking for a non-sleep-deprived opinion, the friends who attended the same screening with Tim enthusiastically declared it “good”. (See comment below, as I have obviously undersold their reaction.)