Holy Motors (2012) a (mildly) belated review

When I first heard of Holy Motors it was via some seriously positive reviews that noted the film was surreal yet thought provoking, bizarre yet beautiful.

My spider senses were definitely tingling.

Mind you, I’m not a huge fan of surreal cinema, but when its good (Mulholland Drive, for example) it can be really, really good.  Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that when its bad, it can certainly be very, very bad.

It’s been only a day since I finally got to see Holy Motors, and my opinion of it is still evolving even as I write this sentence.  As a very surreal film, it defies easy explanation regarding its plot.  The best I can offer is the following:  A man named Oscar (Denis Lavant) is being driven through Paris for a day.  His driver (Edith Scob) is his only constant company and she takes him from one “assignment” to another, wherein the man dresses and/or disguises himself for a series of different “scenes” he is playing out.  Oscar, you see, is an actor and during the course of the day he will participate in nine different sequences which vary wildly from place to place.

A comment on acting and cinema?  A comment on how individuals “appear” differently from scenario to scenario throughout life?

It’s open to your interpretation.  There are hints and allusions to other works of art, from film to novels (I apparently wasn’t the only one to catch a wiff of Moby Dick in the film’s DNA).

Early in the movie we have the two most show stopping segments.  The first involves our actor participating in a “motion capture” film.  He is dressed in black with motion detection silver spheres spread throughout his body.  His movements during this sequence, which eventually becomes highly sexual, are beautiful to behold, and toward the end of the sequence when we finally see what our actors’ motions are being animated as, I suspect the message delivered is that the human form is so much more beautiful in motion than whatever the computer animators come up with afterwards.

The next sequence, certainly the most off-the-wall of the bunch, involves our actor becoming a “beast” and kidnapping a “beauty” (Eva Mendes).  One of the more interesting things about that segment, other than its sheer, unambiguous bizarreness, is that early on in the skit when the “beast” is walking through a graveyard the tombstones, rather than announcing who lies beneath, announce websites they would like people to go to.  Not sure what the meaning of that is, other than that the internet is full of dead sites.  Anyway, unlike the motion capture segment, this one had me scratching my head and wondering just what the hell all that was about.  For those who are averse to male nudity, the conclusion of that particular segment might be a (ahem) turn off.

From there, the movie becomes a little more sedate, featuring interactions between Oscar and what appear to be a series of family relations.  A daughter, a niece, an old lover.  There’s also segments involving assassination and murder, both equally strange.

As I said before, I’m still digesting this film.  Immediately after watching it, I was bewildered and overwhelmed by the strange sights and sounds but after a day of sorting things out, I’m far more enthusiastic over what I saw.  Having said that, I find it difficult to recommend this film to the casual theater goer.

The fact is that Holy Motors demands your attention and patience as well as a desire to follow its strange cinematic paths.  If you give it a try, you may well find yourself well rewarded in the end.