How many lives can a man live in a lifetime? How many times have you wanted to reinvent yourself so you could begin entirely anew? These are some of the questions that Holy Motors poses to its audience, but it does so in such a way that the audience leaves the theatre with more questions than answers.
Holy Motors starts in a manner akin to the silent films of old, with black-and-white footage of a strongman displaying his physique. This sets up the theme of technology being more appealing when it was simpler, something that lead Oscar (Denis Lavant) bemoans to his employer. Throughout the film’s duration there are numerous references to silent cinema and its structure as well as its simplicity; one such way being the use of an intermission to pause the narrative. The in-between sections, however, couldn’t be more different.
Oscar is driven around Paris in a limousine by Celine (Édith Scob). Inside the limo is effectively a treasure trove of make-up and costumes allowing Oscar to embody a new character for each assignment. What exactly these assignments are is never made clear to the audience. This creates a level of distance between Oscar and the viewer, as we never truly get to know him, yet thanks to Lavant’s performance, it doesn’t really matter. His is an example of true character acting as he immerses himself into eleven different characters throughout and yet he brings something new to each one. Eddie Murphy could learn a thing or two here.
Holy Motors could be considered as a series of short films that happens to be loosely held together by a narrative that proves immaterial to the shorts themselves. Director Leos Carax is the auteur behind this bizarre yet enthralling melange of vignettes. He does not give the audience many answers until the final act, but by that time the larger narrative is almost irrelevant in comparison to the next short.
When the film does allow for characterisation for Oscar, it occurs via a chance meeting with Jean (Kylie Minogue). The character brings a certain levity to the proceedings and Minogue does a solid job in the brief role, but it should be said that about half of her time on screen is of her singing so the film played to her strengths.
At the end of the day, how enjoyable is Holy Motors? It is a bewildering beast, one that makes the audience laugh one moment and then confuses the next, but it is so whimsical that you can’t look away. Carried by a strong performance from Lavant (or several depending on your view) as well as some unique ideas, it is the kind of film that reminds audiences of the potential of cinema and how it can take on a trip you will never forget.