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Holy Motors

2012 | 115 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

Holy Motors


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Movie appeal

Dark humor13%



Theatrical release date

 17 October, 2012
 28 September, 2012

Country of origin


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Screenshots from Holy Motors Blu-ray

Holy Motors Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 23, 2012

“Holy Motors” is a puzzler with a mischievous spirit. It’s nearly impossible to understand the overall movement of this abstract French production, but its individual scenes possess sizable power, playing with emotional speeds and film genres while always on the hunt for ways to keep the viewer guessing as to where this collection of images and sound is going to head next. It’s far from an engrossing excursion into experimental cinema, yet “Holy Motors” remains determined to chase impulses and stage fascinating moments of life, death, sex, and musical performance. It’s not always the easiest sit, but it’s frequently memorable and commendably demented.

If there’s a plot to “Holy Motors,” and that’s up for debate, it would concern the daily activities of Oscar (Denis Lavant), who rises early in the morning, greeted by chauffer Celine (Edith Scob) and her stretch limo. Off to a series of “appointments” in Paris, Oscar turns the interior of the car into a rolling wardrobe and make-up department, transforming himself into various characters, most quite monstrous in appearance. Carrying out plans arranged by an unknown source, Oscar emerges from the car a crippled old beggar, a subterranean ghoul out to transform a print model (Eva Mendes) into a mother figure, an actor working on a violent and sexually aggressive motion capture project, an assassin, a dying man, and lost love processing a troubled past with his ex (Kylie Minogue). As the day wears on, Oscar is run through the emotional wringer, keeping on task with help from Celine and her professional support.

“Holy Motors” emerges from director Leos Carax, whose last feature, “Pola X,” was released in 1999. Time away from the screen appears to have burrowed deep into the filmmaker’s system, with the picture resembling an extended full body scratch intending to rid the helmer of his unbearable creative itches. With its cinematic foundation (the opening moments of the effort study a movie audience watching a screen), “Holy Motors” branches out into numerous directions and moods, asking viewers to follow Oscar as he goes about his day job participating in fantasies. These dreamscape visitations are bound together by a vocational duty, yet exactly what the man is up to is never clarified, just studied in amazing detail that finds Lavant dressed up in elaborate make-up and costumes as he ventures outside the limo to portray a variety of characters. He’s a monster and a lover, a dying man of regret and a masked killer targeting businessmen on the city streets. Carax keeps “Holy Motors” obscure and textured, leaving enough room for those who enjoy decoding screen meaning to gorge themselves on the symbolic possibilities of it all.

The film is violent, featuring a shocking knife attack as Oscar swaps identities with one of his clients. There’s a heavy sexual side to the effort as well, observing Oscar madly consume his limber, latex-suited mo-cap co-star (played by contortionist Zlata), while his time in a cave with his model prize reveals clear, ahem, excitement with his maternal salvation. Carax holds to primal screen behaviors to maintain some energy to the piece, while investing in the power of non-sequiturs, including an entr’acte that provides a unified swell of accordions and percussion as Oscar and his fellow musicians circle around a church while stomping through a propulsive performance. There are no rules to “Holy Motors,” only a thinly designed motivation that keeps Oscar and Celine in motion, traveling to jobs as exhaustion hits our lead character. The rest of the movie is anything goes, and it often does that, toying with genres and tempos, while encouraging Minogue to belt out a mournful tune in the final act.

“Holy Motors” doesn’t lack imagination, but two hours of obscurity is draining, especially when there’s such a pronounced prankster attitude, leaving the viewing experience on the cold side. The picture rarely engages the heart, coming off as more of an extended art piece that constantly shifts in perspective, leaving personal interpretation crucial to the experience. It’s a bold effort with much to celebrate and examine. However, if Carax’s sorcery doesn’t immediately encourage interest in Oscar’s fantasyland invasion, trigger the eject button on your seat. “Holy Motors” is not the type of cinema that should be endured, demanding inquisitive minds, preferably raised on the miracle of movies.

Starring: Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Denis Lavant, Kylie Minogue, Jeanne Disson, Michel Piccoli
Director: Leos Carax

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