I love Halloween. It’s like my Christmas — lots of fun, candy, amazing TV specials, Halloween is a time of celebration and horror. Today though, I’m not going to be talking about a horror movie in the most literal sense. There’s something vaguely uncomfortable and unsettling about this movie in a very deep, very personal way that I felt was just as disturbing as a straight-up horror movie. Besides, everyone could use a little more culture in their lives, so we will talk about a French movie.
Let’s take a look at Holy Motors.
Holy Motors does not have a plot in the most literal sense. We follow a man named Mr. Oscar, most likely an actor, who gets into a limousine and begins changing into different costumes. Some costumes seem normal, like a motion capture suit for a film, a father picking up his daughter or a banker, while others like a beggar woman or graveyard troll are incredibly bizarre. The film ends with Oscar going “home” to a pair of chimpanzees and his limo driver Cecile returns to the Holy Motors garage, where the limos have a conversation about their future. The audience at the end is not given an explanation as to why these events have occurred, we just have to accept them as fact.
If you were to ask me what the film is really about, I’d tell you that your guess is as good as mine. Probably better because throughout the film I was thoroughly confused. The film itself does not play off any of the events as bizarre – it all makes sense in the world of Holy Motors and it is the audience that is struggling to figure out what is happening. My theories about the movie are vast and a little far-reaching. It could be a commentary on the life of an actor, where he’s forced to play many different roles ultimately comes home to strangers (i.e. the monkeys). Thus the conversation between the limos at the end makes more sense – the actor is always afraid of being outdated, becoming too old to keep up and being cast aside. It could also be about the varying definitions of what it means to be a man and the limo dialogue would be about utility and purpose. There is no distinction between the role and the man; there’s no way to tell if any of these are his real lives. When a woman and her lover kills themselves, the actor feels pain and gets drunk in his limo but there’s no way of knowing if this is just another role.
Something else that came to mind was that each set piece was supposed to embody different genres of film – monster horror, drama, art films, gangster films, etc. As each genre waxes and wanes in popularity they are retired, like the limos of Holy Motors garage. The movie could also be about Hell (i.e. the holy part of the title) and this is merely what Hell is like for these people, constantly shifting roles, being hurt both physically and emotionally before being driven away by their limo drivers, who are also tortured by watching this all unfold. Really, it can mean whatever you want it to mean because, at least to me, it’s more about the emotion of the film rather than the content in this case.
While the cast is amazing, Denis Lavant, who plays Mr. Oscar, is a powerhouse. His transition from role to role without ever losing the core of the character is quite amazing. No matter who he plays, you can feel the actor under the costuming and make-up, even though we know nothing about who Mr. Oscar really is. He encounters all these people with a level of engagement that feels real and yet is just detached enough to portray to the viewer that this is just a performance – while it’s meant to make you feel, it literally means nothing.
The cinematography is absolutely stunning. There are times you feel like you are watching a movie within a movie and others feel like a scene from a TV drama. The film doesn’t seem to care about keeping a consistent tone but somehow manages to make every scene feel like a tragedy. Everything from the lighting to the shots and ever the special effects are created to elicit dread and sorrow. The colors they use are dynamic and full of life, leaving no scene drained or tired-looking. You could watch it as a moving art piece alone and not even bother with the plot and it would still be worth it.
All in all, Holy Motors is a beautiful but confusing art film that I am hesitant to recommend to anyone. On the one hand it is a stunning work of film and on the other hand its so drench in the world of metaphor, almost all initial viewings will be mired with gut reactions and probably expletives. I would cautiously say that I recommend the film if you want to see a powerful piece of emotional, artistic cinema but not if you’re a person who needs plot. Also, watch it if you’re very invested in the French cinema scene as it is a real game changer.
– Great cinematography.
– Great cast.
– Strong emotional piece.
– Confusing narrative, if its meant to be a narrative.