Leos Carax’s latest film Holy Motors follows a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he travels through a series of work appointments in the back of a limousine. However, as the viewer quickly discovers, Monsieur Oscar is no normal businessman, or even a normal man for that matter. In the back of the limo between appointments, Oscar transforms himself into a series of characters who range from the banal (a father driving his daughter home, an elderly man on his death bed, a titan of industry) to the completely bizarre (both the killer and the killed, a mad man who carries a supermodel down into the sewers, and the accordionist leader of a rogue musical band).
Monsieur Oscar doesn’t just physically alter his appearance; he actually steps into that character’s life, thinks their thoughts, does what has been pre-scripted for him in a series of mysterious folders, and attempts to convince others to believe in the veracity of his character’s existence. This is all part of some sort of shady job Oscar has been doing for the past 20 years, playing a string of never-ending characters, permitted to be his real self, whatever that may be, only in the moments between appointments in the back of the car. Lately, though, Oscar has grown weary of his lonely profession, and the people “watching” aren’t buying the act like they used to. Oscar points out that he entred into this line of work for “the beauty of the act” but that now, with microscopic cameras, it’s impossible to tell if one is being watched at all. And if no one is watching is the fiction still beautiful? Does the act still become real if there’s no one to believe in it?
Carax’s Holy Motors manages to make a profound statement about human existence and the fine, often blurred line between living and acting without being heavy-handed or pedantic. In fact, Carax’s film actually suffers from the exact opposite. At times, it can be so light-hearted and hilarious that it undercuts the dark, perverse sadness that underlies the story as a whole—specifically the ending of the film, which in a matter of minutes manages to undo a good portion of the profundity and insightfulness that had been built up to that point. That’s not to say that the humor is out of place. Throughout the film, as it starts to reach a fever pitch of weirdness or despondency, a well-timed joke will pull the audience back in and keep them firmly on Monsieur Oscar’s side. This tension between the dramatic and comedic helps make Holy Motors a fascinating and heartbreaking study of humanity, one leavened with a refreshing levity and humor that makes Carax’s philosophy on life not only palatable, but thoroughly enjoyable.
Director: Leos Carax
Writer: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2012