After an absence of more than 10 years, French director Leos Carax has returned to the spotlight with his fantastic film “Holy Motors,” a strong contender at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Carax’s innovative style makes it difficult to analyze what works and what doesn’t. “Holy Motors” constantly tugs and twists the audience’s perception of what is real, resulting in varied experiences for each viewer.
Staged in the stunning city of Paris, the film follows Oscar (Denis Lavant), an enigmatic character whose mysterious job allows him to lead parallel lives and identities. At the back of his limousine, which is driven by his trusted chauffeur, Celine (Edith Scob), Oscar uses makeup, elaborate costumes and props to take on a different persona. He then unleashes himself on Paris, playing out a series of complex, bizarre scenarios.
Oscar’s first assignment is an action sequence on a soundstage. Clad in an outlandish green outfit and gruesome latex mask, he takes on the persona of the monstrous Monsieur Merdre and proceeds to wreak havoc on unsuspecting Parisians. Other sequences involve Oscar–now in the role of a gangster–killing a snitch, acting out a deathbed melodrama and providing his shy daughter with life advice. Each vignette is equal parts funny, trippy and outright disturbing.
As Oscar reinvents, and in some cases, resurrects himself for every sequence, the film never differentiates between reality and fantasy. Every character seems an actor in a play. Even the film’s most static figure, Celine, puts on a mask at the end of the film. Carax invites viewers to see life as a performance. Every day, we wake up and put on a mask for the people around us, making us question whether our identity is truly ours.
Carax’s use of imagery and sounds is spectacular. From aerial shots of Oscar in an empty cemetery to a close-up of him putting on his makeup to uncomfortable silences and lavish musical numbers, the film presents the character’s life as a spectacle. Lavant’s wonderfully schizophrenic performance is one of the key reasons for the film’s success, demonstrating devotion to each persona as he gracefully sheds and reassumes identities.
And yet it’s impossible to analyze “Holy Motors” from a distance. The film is an intellectually interactive experience that can take on different meaning depending on the audience. For this unique reason, it is important to see the film with an open mind and a willingness to let your perception be distorted.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 18 print edition. Bob Teoh is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.
- Weekend Roam: Little Germany
- WSN Editorial Board reflects on spring semester events
- Strawberry Festival promises delicious, intergalactic fun
- Clive Davis Institute collaborates with DJ Swivel
- Best places to dine on dumplings
- 'Heroes' is not super enough for Xbox Live film program launch
- NYU SLAM sees victory through 'badidas' campaign
- Victoria Ettore elected student council president
- Hester Street Fair hosts diverse vendors, delicious food