Holy Motors (2012) Review

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Director: Leos Carax

Writer: Leos Carax

Actors: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, 


Well that was an interesting experience. I feel like that is the main word when it comes to Holy Motors, "experience". Because the film itself manages to engross you whether or not you are understanding what is going on or not. To be completely honest I did not know what I would get into when I went into this film, and I was still surprised by the end of it. Well I guess that's surrealism for you. Anyway, when I went into the film I was scared because although I love surrealism, there are certain types of films in the genre I cannot stand. For example, I love films like Mulholland Drive but I can't stand Eraserhead. I think the difference for me is that when surrealism gets way too extreme that you have to throw any hope of understanding the film, the movie then boils down to how effective the other elements are. If they do not deliver then you are left with this empty feeling. However, films such as Mulholland Drive or Synecdoche New York, allow for certain levels of interpretation even if you are not one to look deep into the meaning of the film. So the operative question is, where does Holy Motors place in the scale of surrealism. Thankfully, for me personally, it is on the good side, and here is why. 

First of all, I want to talk about the story of the film, or I guess you could say the things that happen; since with many surrealist films the story is all over the place. The film follows a man aptly named Oscar. Which I believe is a nod to The Academy Awards but I'm still not sure about that. Anyway, Oscar goes throughout his day in a limousine fulfilling various appointments. These appointments have him act strange roles and does it, to the audience at least, in front of no actual cameras. We later find out that there are many people who undergo this job. The world that Carax built is a very interesting one, because it balances on a thin line between reality and fiction. In terms of the plot and pacing of the film. I feel like Carax did a great job in balancing it out. The film never felt boring and it managed to keep me intrigued as to what appointment he will go on next. Furthermore, due to the actual story, there are times when we do not even know what is an appointment and what is just Oscar going about his day. We see this in the very first scene where Oscar is leaving a house and waving goodbye to "his kids". One of "his kids" waves and wishes him to have fun at work. However, what we later realize is that he is currently working, and this role as a dad is an appointment that he is just about to finish. Carax uses these instances to challenge the viewer, to try to always doubt what is actually happening in front of them. This mistrust that he instilled manages to make the viewer start thinking and focusing more, since they don't want to be fooled again. I felt like it was a brilliant way to keep the viewer thinking about the film and it certainly made me focus even more. All in all, the story is a very interesting one. Many surrealist films try to go on the route of disregarding story fully and going full experimental. However Carax, manages to find this sweet spot of a story that manages to just barely glue everything together so that the viewers are able to create a cohesive interpretation of the film.

Next I want to talk a bit about the themes of the film. Although I could not fully understand the themes and subtexts of the film by the first viewing, I still want to talk about it since it adds a lot to the discussion. The film has many themes of not being ones self and escapism. We see that Oscar is using these appointments in order to both work and also escape his normal life. An important line that made me feel like Oscar believes this job is an escape is when he was driving his daughter back from the party. Obviously, we assume this is his daughter, some can make the argument that this is another appointment. Nevertheless, she asks if she will be punished for lying. Oscar replies with "your punishment will be to be you, to live with yourself". This is such an important line in my opinion because it lets us into Oscar's thoughts. He feels like living with ones self is a curse and a punishment. He uses his job as a way to live the lives of other people that he may never have experienced had it not been for his work. Another interesting theme I noticed was that of the entertainment industry. During the scene with Eva Mendes' character, we see the photographer taking photos and just repeating "beauty". Showing us how the industry only cares about whats on the outside. This is further cemented when Oscar comes in as this crazy dwarf. The photographer shifts focus and starts taking pictures of him while saying "weird" over and over again. Carax here is trying to show us how the entertainment industry only focuses on the extremes, whether it be beauty or weirdness. They never want anything average. We also see how Eva Mendes' character does not react to what is going on even though it is shocking. She simply complies to everything anyone tells her to do. Again I feel like Carax is trying to convey how models just obey whatever is told to them without regard to their own opinion. Obviously the film is laced with other themes and subtexts but I still cannot interpret them, especially after only one viewing. For example, I don't know exactly what the limousine's actually represent, but the final scene opens up room for interpretation, especially with the name "Holy Motors". Furthermore, the beginning of the film starts with the director Leos Carax, in a room, going to wall with trees painted on it. He opens a door and arrives at the theater. Again I can't interpret this scene but I feel like it has to do with something Oscar said halfway through the film about forests. He asked if there would be an appointment at the forest, and how he misses it. I feel like there is a connection but I am not sure yet. Hopefully I will try to watch the film a couple more times and give a full film analysis, because I feel like the film offers way more than what was just said. 

Finally I want to talk about the audiovisual elements of the film. I found the visual elements of the film to be really well done. I was surprised by the creative ways Carax managed to approach cinematography in this film. The long takes along with the well placed camera angles played perfectly and fit the entire aesthetic of the film really well. However, although the visuals were great, I actually enjoyed the audio way more. It managed to play a key role in the entire experience of Holy Motors. With each appointment, Oscar is playing a widely different "character". With these varying characters, we got differing pieces of sound in order to accompany the feel of that character. I feel like Carax, really smashed it out of the park with the choices he made. From the intense fast paced section when he was the crazy dwarf, to the mesmerizing track as he was in the CGI hall, all of the music played really well with the switching of moods of the film. I don't really feel like there is more to get into when it comes to this aspect of the film. Overall, I was really pleased with what Carax offered and I feel like it managed to elevate the experience of the film.

All in all, Holy Motors is not for everyone. It is a film that is confusing and needs a lot of focus in order to understand. Furthermore, I feel like the film needs multiple viewings in order to get the full experience. However, I feel like Holy Motors is able to carry its own even if one does not understand anything while watching the film. The movie manages to offer an experience like no other. The audiovisual aspect, along with the bizarre switching of characters that Oscar does plays well into the overall experience of the film. Overall, Holy Motors was a great surprise and I would recommend it to anyone who is feeling a bit adventurous and doesn't mind entering the world of weird and bizarre films. 


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