' ' Cinema Romantico: Holy Motors

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holy Motors

The opening shot is of a movie audience. It is facing us. We are facing them. It is watching us. We are watching them. It’s like that glorious moment in “Spaceballs” when Col. Sandurz and Dark Helmet fast-forward through “Spaceballs: The Movie” to locate the exact part of the actual movie which they are currently in. “Everything that happens now, is happening now.” Everything that happens now in “Holy Motors” is happening now. And yet, once now has passed you won’t be able to stop thinking about what happened then.

Is it odd to compare the latest bit of extravagant absurdism from French director Leos Carax to the broader oeuvre of bean fart artisan Mel Brooks? Au contraire. Brooks’ movies were often quite conscious of the fact they were movies and so too is “Holy Motors” fully aware of its cinematic temperament (or, at least, it appears to be). In a very weird but very real way it stirs memories of “Blazing Saddles’” memorable climax in which the fourth wall was broken and its characters found themselves blundering through other movie sets even as their own movie rushed toward its conclusion. Then again, it’s not as if “Holy Motors” is breaking the fourth wall. It’s more as if the audience has been invited through the fourth wall – entered the stargate from the other side, if you will – to see the world of movies if all actors and actresses treated their jobs as seriously as Daniel Day Lewis and worked as frequently as Nicolas Cage.

Denis Lavant is Monsieur Oscar although this is, in fact, but one of eleven total characters he plays – although this is not akin to Peter Sellers taking different roles as different people in “Dr. Strangelove” but the SAME man playing eleven different parts. And this is because Oscar’s occupation is to ride around in the back of a limo loaded with a makeup mirror and assortment of wigs and costumes and "Mission Impossible"-esque facemasks which allow him to transform into a variety of people – ranging from an Eva Mendes-kidnapping troll to an old man laying down in his deathbed.

He calls them “appointments”. But appointments for whom? Later his employer shows up in the limo and questions Lavant’s commitment. “People aren’t believing what they see anymore,” he says. (I imagine Monsieur Cage hears this complaint from his agent, too.) But what people? The audience we saw at the beginning? Are they meant to represent us? Are we more and more often turning up at the movies and not believing what we see? Or are these people producers? Have they had it with actors? Is Leos Carax commenting on CGI and the eventuality of S1m0ne’s running cinematically amock? Or does it have nothing to do with the movies? Is the occupation the point? Are we all just wearing masks to disguise ourselves when we clock in every morning? But then why does Monsieur Oscar’s driver put on her mask (literally) when she leaves the job? Do we identify ourselves through our jobs and then have no idea who in the hell we are when we clock out?

I really have no idea. I’m just spitballing here. “Holy Motors” is all a matter of interpretation. It will, I suspect, elicit cries of “What’s the point?” But the point is you can just sort of fashion the point for yourself. It’s not so much a movie as this bendable, shape-shifting piece of cinema that you can mess around with mentally to assume whatever point you might wish.

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