Considering his frequent dismissal as little more than a talented yet over-sensationalist fanboy fixated on the Nouvelle Vague, Leos Carax’s first feature in 13 years works as an exultant re-affirmation if not redemption of all the schismatic idiosyncrasies that have characterised his style, plus an extra bucketful thrown on top for good measure.
Without a narrative to speak of, Holy Motors follows Carax regular Denis Lavant as he’s driven around in a stretch limo that doubles as a dressing room, setting up a series of loony vignettes that see him transformed into ever-more outrageous characters: from the leader of a parade of bare-chested skinhead accordion players raging through a church, to Monsieur Merde, a flower-munching, erection-wielding goblin worthy of Rabelais, to a latex-clad cyber-pornstar performing a ‘sex’ scene so bizarre, it’ll have psychoanalysts frothing at the mouth.
In structure and intent, it’s strongly reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s lit classic If on a winter’s night a traveller. Just as Calvino celebrated literature by offering the opening chapters of ten different novels that were never written, so too Carax celebrates cinema by giving us a glimpse of ten different films that could have been. Unfortunately, the film also shares the book’s weakness: while most of the episodes are brilliant, those that fail kill its momentum and, lacking anything concrete for the viewer to be invested in, highlight a lack of substance beneath the stylistic flourishes and unbridled intertextuality.
Regardless, in sheer lunatic audacity and ambition, it makes for a laudable and incredibly refreshing spectacle.
Holy Motors | Directed by Leos Carax (France/Germany 2012) with Denis Lavant, Michel Piccoli, Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes. Opens August 30.
Originally published in the September 2012 issue of Exberliner