Holy Motors

ALEX MARTIN encourages you all to see this new weird and wonderful flick.

carax guardian Kylie Minogue lavant Oscar

We were all still sitting in the theatre as the lights came up. A gentleman behind me declared to whoever it was that he had come with that this was the weirdest film he had ever seen. Nobody replied. It was a particularly useless thing to say. There was no need to communicate to us, or to his friend, that it was extraordinary. Perhaps the opposite sentiment would have been remarkable – but it should have occurred to him that our sitting quietly, a full minute into the credits now, was significant of an experience that could only be denigrated by being called “weird”.  We remained seated until music began to accompany the credits and then quietly shuffled into the lobby the way I remember people shuffling out of Mass.

I imagine Holy Motors was as difficult to make a trailer for as it was to review; the above  certainly offers nothing resembling a synopsis but rather a glimpse, through a keyhole, of its curious shape.

Leos Carax, the writer and director, told the Guardian that he was “trying to describe the experience of being alive in the internet world. The different lives we are able to live. The fatigue of being oneself”. Despite his obvious desire to not explain away his first film for thirteen years, this seems to be Carax at his most admissive.

Denis Lavant, a man who in shape alone is incredibly charismatic, plays Mr Oscar, who professionally and recreationally attends strange appointments in other peoples’ lives (or perhaps appointments in his own strange lives). Édith Scob, as Céline, chauffeurs him to these appointments in a white limousine in the back of which is Mr Oscar’s dressing room. Here is where we spend most of our time with him. Outside he becomes other people: he is an elderly begging woman or is wearing a motion-capture suit for one of the strangest love scenes to ever take place upon the silver screen. Very little of the film can be considered familiar – and those moments in which it does become familiar are jarring and abstracted.

It is too early to say whether Holy Motors will be recognised or see material returns, but I suspect everybody involved in the production believes in the beauty of what they’ve done. Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Élise L’Homeau, Jeanne Disson and Michel Piccoli all come in to support what is essentially the furious charisma of Denis Lavant, and they do so with humour, sadness and at times an honest melodrama which the fabric of their lives and that of the film itself tries to interrogate.

There is a moment during a musical scene in which Kylie Minogue’s character seems to be improvising a song and as she struggles to finish her sentence the score skips with her. It is an intelligent film and it will unsettle you. It is not something that privileges an audience’s familiarity with the genre in order to tell a good story or show some great acting.

I give Holy Motors five stars not because I wish to celebrate my opinion of it but to encourage others to see it too. There are not very many chances to see films as cinematic as this in their proper theatrical setting, amongst an audience of strangers: and, if I’m honest, you may not even like what you have seen, but you will be glad to have seen it.

Holy Motors is not, you might say, one of the bottle. It is a special one.