Release date: January 28th, 2013
Running time: 115 minutes
Country of origin: France
Original language: French with English subtitles
Writer and director: Leos Carax
Cast: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob
We’re often told that ‘You must be yourself or else you are kidding only yourself’, but is there any truth to this assertion? Why do you have to be yourself? Why can’t you be someone else, or even more? I’ve been thinking about this ever since I watched Holy Motors, and it still intrigues me.
Mr Oscar (Denis Levant) is a wealthy middle-aged man, a very busy man with a packed schedule. His secretary and chauffeur Celine (Édith Scob) informs her boss of the first of many appointments. Mr Oscar is not what he at first appears to be. He may be a businessman, but he’s also a hobbling beggar woman, a motion-capture actor, an assassin, a father, an underground sewer dweller, and a rich elderly man.
These are just some of the many guises that fill Mr Oscar’s day, each ‘appointment’ is a new scenario for him to inhabit entirely. The division between performance and reality is blurred; many of Mr Oscar’s performances are conducted in public, as though it’s reality television. Each performance starts and ends back in his white stretch limousine, which is not only his transportation but his make-up and changing room. Mr Oscar assumes each new character with the help of various prosthetics, make-up and clothing. We see the craft involved in his transformations from one person to another, and witness the mental and physical agility in him to become each new persona.
When or where does life end and performance begin, is there a difference? Holy Motors may or may not be a fantasy, even when Mr Oscar seems to ‘be himself’, is he really who we think he is? Returning home at the end of his long and gruelling day, how do we really know if this is not yet another performance? In the context of the film, it doesn’t really matter. As comical and fantastical as Holy Motors is, it touches on identifiable human experiences throughout the film to sustain an emotional connection.
Holy Motors is a paean to film and filmmaking, and the actor’s craft. Denis Levant gives the performance of a lifetime; his chameleonic routine makes him unrecognisable from appointment to appointment, delivering one incredible performance after another. Throw in a fleet of talking limousines, a suburban chimpanzee family, marching accordionists, and far more that’s indecipherable, and you’ve got possibly the strangest film of 2012.
Whatever the director Leos Carax’s motives are, having a joke at our expense is too easy an option. Holy Motors could be a comment on the human race, of who we are, who we think we are, and who we’d like to be. As puzzling as this film often is, it was a relief to find so little pretension, there’s many a pinch of melancholy and substance in Mr Oscar’s ‘life’ to remind you of the person behind the many masks, of his troubles as an actor and his own health problems. His multiple lives also reveal the foreboding reality of death, you see it in him whether he is acting or not. Mr Oscar reflects in us all, we see his performances in each and every one of us.
Mr Oscar is asked in the film why does he do it, he replies “For the beauty of the gesture”. Holy Motors is so open to interpretation, as limitless as Mr Oscar’s persona’s. I would like to think that he really is the wealthy middle-aged man who has no need to work anymore, he could be all those characters and lead parallel lives, and nobody would know. Tiring as it sounds, wouldn’t that be great?
Art school opened Dipesh's eyes to the endless possibilities of film, constantly amazed at how filmmakers can alter our perceptions of the world. He's been devouring films in all genres from any period from all over the world ever since - life just wouldn't be the same without film! Some favourites include Stalker, All About My Mother, Oldboy, 2001, Man Bites Dog, Salaam Bombay, Hana Bi and Delicatessen.