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From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man...
For more about Holy Motors and the Holy Motors Blu-ray release, see Holy Motors Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 19, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Denis Lavant, Kylie Minogue, Jeanne Disson, Michel Piccoli
Director: Leos Carax
» See full cast & crew
Holy Motors Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 19, 2013
Have you ever had a dream which when upon waking and thinking about it obviously made no (or at least little) sense whatsoever, and yet while you were actually dreaming it seemed to be the absolute height of logic and rationality? For those of you who haven't had this experience, there's a way to recreate it: simply watch Holy Motors, one of the oddest, most quasi-hallucinatory films in recent memory. While it can't be stated that Holy Motors moves with anything approaching a standard narrative form, while it's unspooling it at least has a certain cohesion of tone, if not of content, but after it's over, you may be wondering what the frell you've just witnessed. Written and directed by controversial French filmmaker Leos Carax (Pola X), Holy Motors might seem to be about film itself (more about that in a bit), but is it really? Holy Motors begins with a bizarre scene of a man (some sources state this is played by Carax himself, others state it's star Denis Levant, but I personally found it impossible to accurately tell due to the deliberate obfuscation involved) waking up in a hotel room next to an airport. Strangely, even though we can clearly see jets landing outside seemingly within inches of his room's window, the only sounds we hear are the lapping of waves and occasional call of seabirds. This man affects an odd, almost dance like, walk over to a wall covered in an abstract wall paper that resembles birch trees in a forest. The man finds an outcropping of sorts in the wall and bends down to peer at it. Is it a porthole, a window into an unseen dimension? No—it's a lock, and just as in many dreams, the man suddenly realizes he has the key to the lock literally growing out of one of his fingers. The door is opened—with difficulty—and the man stumbles into a hallway with a seizure inducing flickering light. There's another set of doors, and the man pushes through them to find himself—in a movie house. And that's when Holy Motors gets really weird.
The bulk of Holy Motors then shifts inexplicably (something that will become something of a running situation with this film) to, in the inimitable words of Monty Python's Flying Circus, something completely different. We're outside a palatial white Deco mansion that seems to have been ripped whole cloth (and/or stucco) from one of the old David Suchet Poirot episodes. A well heeled man, Monsieur Oscar (regular Carax collaborator Denis Levant) mosies down a beautiful walkway as what appear to be bodyguards watch from every conceivable surrounding surface and while his teenage daughter bids him adieu and urges him to "work hard", with an attendant giggle. Oscar gets into an equally palatial white stretch limousine and we're astounded to discover the interior is more or less a spacious dressing room, replete with makeup mirror, prosthetics and other accoutrements of the actor's art. (It's no mere coincidence that the main character is named Oscar; there's the obvious reference to the Academy Award, but Oscar is also the pseudonymous Carax's real middle name.)
Oscar turns out to be something of a chameleon, adopting a variety of personae as the film progresses. He's an elderly (female) Gypsy, hunched over and begging for money on a Paris street. He's the French equivalent of Andy Serkis in some kind of bizarre motion capture mating ritual which morphs into a brief CGI sequence. He's the atavistic Mr. Merde (from Carax's contributions to Tokyo!), a sort of Calaban-esque character who dances through a cemetery literally devouring the flowers that mourners have left by graves and then abducting a supermodel (Eva Mendes), squirreling her away to the bowels of the Paris sewers and then reenacting a fairly disturbing tableau of Madonna and Child replete with explicit male sexual excitement (no, this is not a misprint). He's a perturbed father dealing with a petulant teen but so completely immune and indifferent to the girl's obvious emotional distress that it's at least as disturbing, if in a completely different way, as the Madonna allusion which has just passed. And so on and on it goes, one patently outlandish scenario after another, with absolutely no linking material other than Oscar's return to his limo to adopt a new disguise.
Considering the opening gambit of Holy Motors, one might reasonably assume that the film is trying to comment in some way on the very medium of which it is a part, especially as Oscar romps through at least a couple of discernable movie genres (the CGI sequence and a musical featuring Kylie Minogue are probably the best examples of this particular tendency). But a lot of other sequences in Holy Motors are only tangentially relatable to film, and then only if one kind of decides going in that, say, the scene between the parent and the teen is a representation of a cinematic depiction of family dysfunction. Some sequences (notably the Mr. Merde outing) completely defy rational analysis, which seems to be part of Carax's thesis in any case. What is perhaps more of a linking idea here (if indeed there even is one, which is highly debatable) is the anonymity of the modern world, a place where people are largely faceless (more about that in a moment), malleable (but also strangely impenetrable) and ultimately unknowable.
The only other really recurring character aside from Oscar in Holy Motors is Oscar's businesslike chauffeur, Céline (Édith Scob). Cineastes may well recognize Scob's name from the iconic 1960 horror film Eyes Without a Face. Carax intentionally plays on that memory in one of the film's most dreamlike sequences, when Céline dons a featureless greenish mask that in fact makes her more like a face without eyes. It's another haunting image that ultimately makes little if any sense, but which somehow speaks to some deep wells within the collective unconscious, sending out its own hallucinatory ripples and waiting for the viewer to wake in the wake.
Holy Motors Blu-ray, Video Quality
Holy Motors is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Indomina Films with an MPEG-2 encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. As I have mentioned several times in my reviews, I am not an especial fan of the look of Red shot features, so I probably would not have given this the stellar review my colleague Dr. Svet Atanasov did in his write up on the British release, but I also have to wonder if perhaps the fact that this domestic release utilizes the MPEG-2 codec (as opposed to the British use of AVC) has contributed to what I personally would call a kind of drab looking outing some of the time. The film is simply swathed in shadows and darkness a lot of the time, and unfortunately that tendency when added to the Red proclivity for kind of flat, textureless appearances add up to what seems to my eyes a sometimes overly soft and ill defined presentation. That said, things pop really well in the well lit sequences (see screenshot two of Eva Mendes for a great example). In those moments, fine detail improves dramatically and colors are also much more robust. But a lot of this presentation left me wanting more—more detail, more visual information in the dimly lit parts of the frame and just overall more crispness and clarity.
(Rather oddly, all of the supplementary material is in fact encoded via AVC.)
Holy Motors Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unlike the British release's lossless audio offerings, Indomina's version presents the soundtrack via only a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. What's here is certainly fine sounding, and some might argue about how much more lossless audio could have added to a film that is frankly not awash in huge sound effects or overwhelming immersion to begin with, but of course most Blu-ray consumers want lossless audio one way or the other. Fidelity here is quite good, and the surround activity, while sometimes quite subtle, is nicely done, especially due to the fact that Oscar visits such a huge variety of environments. Dialogue is clean and the entire mix is well prioritized.
Holy Motors Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Holy Motors Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As I watched Holy Motors, I said to myself, "This is exactly the kind of film [my colleague] Svet Atanasov would love," and after I completed watching and writing about it, I noticed that in fact Dr. Atanasov had recently reviewed the British Blu-ray release of the film, giving it a more or less unqualified rave. Further poking around our site revealed that our feature film reviewer Brian Orndorf had also given his response to the movie here. I have to say my overall response to the film is probably closer to Brian's than to Svet's. I can admire the film's strangeness, its technical craft and its oddly hypnotic tone, but at the same time I was rarely captivated on an emotional level as to what was going on. Holy Motors succeeds admirably as an intellectual exercise, but any film lover will tell you the best movies are the ones that speak directly to the heart. This Blu-ray offers very good video (with some notable caveats) and acceptable (lossy) audio, but it also comes with some excellent supplementary material. For those who are on the hunt for something truly unusual, Holy Motors comes Recommended.
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• Holy Motors Blu-ray - November 16, 2012
Indomina Releasing and Vivendi Entertainment will release on Blu-ray director Leos Carax's Holy Motors (2012), starring Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, and Michel Piccoli. The preliminary release date set by the distributors is February 26 ...
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