Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is the most imaginative film I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s what happens when creativity and genius aren’t stifled by the pursuit of profit. Despite being decidedly non-mainstream, the film has mass appeal. In its genre-bending multi-plot madness, the film manages to appeal to all movie lovers, regardless of personal genre preferences.
Denis Lavant plays Mr. Oscar. Toward the film’s beginning, Mr. Oscar leaves his modernist mansion and gets into a limo. His driver, Céline, tells him there’s a ‘file’ beside him. Having read the file, Mr. Oscar begins combing a long, blonde, female wig. In the next scene, Mr. Oscar emerges from the limo an old woman. Mr. Oscar, we quickly learn, is an actor. Each ‘file’ Céline gives him (about 10 in all) is a different role to play.
In the process of performing this slew of characters, Mr. Oscar faces an identity crisis. He wakes up as a father in one particular home, and goes to bed the companion of chimpanzees in another. Both are only performances in the life of an actor – the home, the children, and the monkeys mere props. What does that make Mr. Oscar? Another character, of course, played by Denis Lavant. And who is Denis Lavant? An actor, playing an actor who, at least at one point in the film plays an actor. How’s that for meta-film? For Carax, as for Judith Butler, identity and performance are synonymous.
Props and ‘scenes’ include: violence, dogs, martial arts, chimpanzees, guns, dragon sex, graveyards, an accordion symphony, a suicide, a disturbing re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast, talking cars, a break-out into musical, and a crippled homeless Hungarian. Intrigued? I thought you might be. Just remember when watching the film: you are not actually watching it. You’re only ‘playing’ a person watching it.
By: Jacob McLean