Film

'Holy Motors': Life as Theater, Antic, Brilliant, and Sometimes, Academic

Elena Razlogova

For all the mechanisms at work in Holy Motors, much like a carousel, the film delivers a ride that's always engaging and often thrilling.

Holy Motors is Léos Carax's first feature film since 1999's Pola X. But if the filmmaker takes his time between such adventures, his storytelling is more inclined to speed, or, more precisely, an energy that emulates speed, propulsive, provocative, and irresistible.

The new movie -- opening in selected US theaters on 17 October -- is less a chronological narrative than series of vivid performances, fantastic and mesmeric. Monsieur Oscar (played by Carax's frequent collaborator Denis Lavant) travels in his limousine from one "appointment" to another, performing roles, each one more outré than the other: he's an old beggar woman one moment and a weird goblin (Merde, from Carax's short in Tokyo!) the next. At times Céline (Édith Scob) seems to be his driver and secretary, but at times she, too, plays parts in his performances. Twice he appears mortally wounded after failed attempts to assassinate his own double in different guises. When his limo crashes into another car, he meets a colleague (Kylie Minogue), also on her way to an appointment. She bursts into song in the middle of their conversation. A manager-like person (Michel Piccoli) appears at one point to check on Mr. Oscar, noting that the actor seems tired of his craft. Mr. Oscar, it turns out, has been performing for a long time, since the days when cameras were big and visible. Now, it's hard to see the cameras, and so, hard to know whether anyone is recording or even seeing him.

Holy Motors' basic philosophical point, that "life is theater," may be a bit too obvious. And other aspects of the film might seem a bit too academic. Citations from other movies abound, including Carax's own and those of his cast: Scob at one point dons a mask that might be from Eyes without a Face, still a startling image. As these allusions accumulate, what might have been clues become irrelevant by the next episode.

But for all the mechanisms at work, much like a carousel, the film delivers a ride that's always engaging and often thrilling. The visual invention is especially compelling, as when Mr. Oscar performs elaborate moves for motion capture, his bodysuit pocked with light, or when a goblin in green whisks a stunning model in a golden dress (Eva Mendez) from a photo shoot. As he runs with her through a cemetery, each gravestone is carved with a URL and a plea to "Visit my website." It's the past receding, the present unfolding, the future in another dimension, dark and brilliant and refreshingly perplexing.

See PopMatters' review.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Music

Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Music

Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.

Music

'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.

Music

10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.

Books

'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.

Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.