“Holy Motors” – 2 STARS

Holy Motors posterHow on earth do you begin to review “Holy Motors”. To be perfectly honest, it’s a movie that I had to think about for a few days before even attempting to review it. Now in some ways that could be considered a good thing. It usually means that the film is original and that it prompts thought and reflection. This film certainly does that. But I kept battling with a key question : What is “Holy Motors?” Is it science fiction? Is it experimental? Is it allegorical? What is it that “Holy Motors” wants to be? I’ve yet to be able to even vaguely answer this. Now to be clear, it’s not an issue of knowing all the details and having everything about the movie figured out. It’s about a movie that came across as jarring and disjointed to the point of incoherency and in the end I couldn’t connect with it despite its impressive artistry.

My pal Ruth over at Flixchatter accurately points out that the nature of experimental cinema is that it’s often incoherent. She’s exactly right and for me this was the case with “Holy Motors” (you can find Ruth’s fantastic review here). I don’t doubt for a moment that writer and director Leos Carax has cryptic themes and underlying commentary hidden throughout this film. But to be honest I found the focus on bizarreness and lunacy to be distracting to the point of subverting any intended point or message. And then there’s the possibility that there isn’t meant to be a profound and provocative message at all. Maybe the entire seemingly plotless exercise is more of an attempt at artistic expression. If that’s the case the movie does work on some levels. But even that’s undone but some of the wildly outlandish concoctions that Carax puts together.

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As I hinted at we get little in terms of story. The movie follows a man known only as Oscar (Denis Lavant). He’s driven around Paris in a white stretch limo by Céline (Édith Scob). She takes him to different “assignments” scattered throughout the city. While traveling from place to place, Oscar is given a file and then, with a crazy assortment of makeup, prosthetics, and costumes undergoes a physical transformation in preparation for the next “assignment”. Throughout the night he takes on the appearance of a motion capture performer, a streetwise gangster, a sickly elderly man, and a maniacal flower eating leprechaun to name a few. We watch each of these “assignments” play out, some which are pretty intriguing and others that completely turned me off.

Contributing to the confusion is the fact that there’s no real connection between any of these individual “assignments”. It’s essentially a handful of shorts and if you like that sort of thing you’ll like “Holy Motors”, that is assuming all of these “shorts” work for you. Well, experimental cinema isn’t my favorite and several of these shorts didn’t work for me so obviously “Holy Motors” didn’t either. And I could never shake the feeling that Carax was simply trying to be as weird as possible during certain moments of the film. Now this led to a few mildly amusing moments but it also led to moments where I found myself drifting further away from the film. And then there are times when it moves from being absurd to borderline offensive. But considering how difficult it is to understand what Carax is doing, it’s hard to judge.

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I don’t want to end this without giving the movie credit for some things it does well. First off Denis Lavant is fantastic. Carax wrote the part with him and only him in mind and you can see why. He’s a multi-talented performer and he’s also a strong actor. Some of the film’s best scenes are the conversations between him and Scob. The film also looks fantastic. The camera work and the slick editing give it an amazing visual appeal. There were also two of the “assignments” that I found to be quite effective. One involves him posing as an elderly man on his deathbed. Another sees him involved in a rooftop musical number with pop star Kylie Minogue. And speaking of music, perhaps my favorite scene in the entire film has Oscar and a band of other musicians performing an accordion jam while walking around the inside of a cathedral. It’s absolutely amazing even though I have no clue where it fits in with everything else.

As I scoured the different reviews for this film I kept seeing descriptive words such as strange, deranged, bonkers, bizarre, gross, madness, weird, frustrating, and soulless and these were all from the positive reviews. Again, if you’re into this you’ll probably have fun with “Holy Motors”. If characters and plot are important ingredients for you, then you’ll probably start checking out before the halfway mark. In the end I guess I can see where some people would enjoy “Holy Motors” and I definitely see where critics would fall all over themselves praising it. But I found it to be a self-indulgent, intentionally strange and incoherent picture that wastes some really good talent. For every one moment where I was impressed with the film there are three or four that had me rolling my eyes or scratching my head. Personally, that’s not the moviegoing experience I’m looking for. But who knows, maybe a second viewing would clear some things up for me.

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24 thoughts on ““Holy Motors” – 2 STARS

    • Thanks! It’s a movie with a huge following especially in critics circles. But there were just too many things that didn’t work for me and that kept pushing me away. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

  1. I give it points for originality but that’s about it. It never felt like it was making any sense to me, and sort of did it on purpose as well. Good review Keith.

  2. This film is certainly i’ve been wanting to see since last year, but i was too afraid, Im very intrigued with this film, i don’t know what genre is this, but great review 🙂

    • Thanks! It certainly wasn’t for me although I could appreciate a few things about it. One things for certain – there are a lot of people who really, really like it so I certainly don’t just dismiss it.

  3. Nice review! Now i HAVE to watch it – you make it sound so strange! I’m instantly turned off by anything that even hints at self-indulgence so I suspect my view will err on the side of negative, but i’ll keep an open mind & check it out.
    Good work!

    • Thank you and I appreciate the comments. Definitely go in with an open mind. For me it was self-indulgent but for many others, especially in critics circles, it’s really adored. There is a degree of artistry here, but I also think there’s a lot of nonsense. But that’s just my take.

  4. I didnt read this Keith, because I still may yet review it. But I did see your opening sentence, and I completely agree. This was scheduled to be my review for yesterday. When I watched it Wednesday night, I was left thinking… how the %#$& do I review THAT?

    My answer was I didnt. LOL. I wound up not posting anything yesterday instead! 😮

    • It’s that kind of movie isn’t it? It’s been almost a week since I watched it and I finally got a review finished yesterday. I was just going to skip it altogether. Hopefully what I’ve written make some kind of sense! LOL

  5. How on earth do you begin to review “Holy Motors”? Ahah, that’s what I asked myself too after I watched it. But as I told you before, I kept *reviewing* this in my head and as you know, I enjoyed it more than you. I didn’t mind that this film defies genres, I kind of expected that from the trailer. Some of the segments don’t work for me and made me cringe, but overall it’s an intriguing and imaginative film, and I’m glad I saw it.

    Btw, thanks for the link Keith! Cheers 😀

    • I can certainly appreciate what you said and many more have liked this movie than disliked it. I can’t help but wonder if a second viewing would change my mind up yet. Perhaps I need to broaden my perspective on it. But I’m just not sure I can get past some of the weirdness of concept and the borderline offensive imagery. Yet there is a definite artistic flare to the picture that you just can’t deny.

  6. Keith I have been Curious to check this one out. I have read conflicting reviews of this film. I even saw this film at the top of few people’s top ten lists. Maybe they were trying to be ironic. 😉

  7. Great review bro. I take on board your thoughts here but I still think I could really enjoy this one. It sounds like something I’d normally like. What does that say about me, I wonder? LOL

    • I really think you’ll like this picture. I don’t believe it says anything bad about you at all. In fact I think it just says you’re a little more open to edgy, experimental cinema than I tend to be. Nothing wrong with that!

      And I’ve sent an email to WordPress about the bad links. There were others having the same problem. Hopefully they can patch things up for me!

      • I must admit, I do like edgy experimental stuff so there is a good chance I’ll get into this.

        Glad to hear your on the email thing. It’s a handy little tool for responding. A necessity I believe 😉

      • My favorite part of Holy Motors is an accordion jam in a church. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on that. Completely out of the blue but brilliant!

  8. Obviously we disagree on this one, but your reasoning is sound. I think another reason why I enjoyed it so much, was the fact that I saw this at the tail end of a marathon of films in a short period of time (64 films in two weeks). The abruptness, the unpredictability, and the overall energy were a welcome jolt to the system.

    • Thanks for the comments. I appreciate you checking out my take on it. I think I’m definitely in the minority with this one and I don’t dismiss anyone’s affection for the film. There is an undeniable artistry to what we see on screen and there were moments that really grabbed my attention and never let go. I just couldn’t connect with it on a whole and that’s where it lost me.

  9. I agree it had its moments. Just needed more of a cohesive story. Despite the great performance by Denis Lavant, and all the praiseworthy unpredictability and imagination, it left me emotionally cold at the end. For me, the characters were too odd to relate to. I felt sequences might be better off in an art exhibition or music video even.
    If I don’t care about the characters, why should I care about analyzing the film? That’s where I stand.

    • I stand right there with you. I understand that this is considered an art piece, but when I watch a movie I like some strand of a narrative. This had none of that. Like you I was cold and indifferent about each character. Nothing to latch on to.

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