Title?: Holy Motors (2012, dir. Leos Carax)
First or second viewing?: First
I actually know nothing about it. I have it written down on one of my “what to rent next” lists, but can’t remember where I heard about it. The back of the box did little to describe the movie; even the clerk who had just seen it had some trouble telling me what it was about. This is the first time I’m reviewing a movie without any kind of bias going in. I should revisit it in the stream-of-consciousness format a year from now, and see how different the review turns out.
A man wakes up from a dream, feels his bedroom wall, and fingers open a secret door hidden in the wallpaper foliage. Reminds me of the climax of Suspiria right out of the gate. The dreamer and his dog (Fool and animal sidekick) venture into the passage.
It leads to a movie theater! I’m currently obsessed with movie theaters–they are the subject of two separate writing projects–so my inner Agent Cooper is urging me to pay strict attention.
A deluxe modern mansion that looks like a tugboat. A very rich man with a very dangerous job. His first “appointment” involves donning a beggar costume and spare-changing in the street. Performance artist? The actor reminds me of Jodorowsky as the monk in El Topo. In fact, so far this feels like Jodorowsky without the sex and violence–a better version of The Rainbow Thief.
Now he’s wearing a motion capture suit. He beats the crap out of himself in a beautifully choreographed martial arts fight against a non-existent opponent. A love scene with a very flexible female foil, also in a capture suit. The CG characters they perform–two reptillian demons rutting over an abyss–are far less engaging and exotic than the real actors; it’s like Mummenschanz porn!
On his way to the next appointment, he still has capture dots on his face, making his skin look reptilian; the roles he plays are rubbing off on him. He takes a head from a box and wears it as his own. Again it brings to mind a kinder, gentler Jodorowsky–La Cravate.
This character in general has to be an homage to Lon Chaney, right?
He chews a hard boiled egg with his mouth open. Jesus God alfuckingmighty please get this scene over with. Fuck! Hurry up, God!
Godzilla theme plays as his new role–a pervy, leprechaun-like troll–cavorts through a cemetery, meant to represent a miniature city. Japanese tourists run screaming from a creature that is shorter than them. The troll commits the first real violence in the film.
The limo rides remind me of Cosmopolis; the actor’s journey from role to role recalls Laura Dern in Inland Empire. The troll kidnaps a catatonic model. In a twist, he turns her outfit into a burqa, covering rather than stripping her. He wants a mother rather than a mate, it seems. Is this meant to be some kind of slam against fundamentalist Islam?
Now I remember where I must have heard about this movie–I think it was an online article I read a couple months ago about the 25 greatest movies about movies.
Now he visits an estranged daughter, apparently as himself, the actor. He’s a complete prick to her. An actor who’s a stranger to his own family, a poetic cliche. She’s an introvert, and he can’t understand it, forces her into an extrovert’s role. She has to lie to keep him off her back, performing for him to keep from performing in public. Keeps her at a hotel, hides his wealth from her (at least I think that’s what’s happening).
And then… the coolest cinematic musical number since Salma Hayek’s snake dance in From Dusk Til Dawn. Wow. Okay, I’m now in love with this movie.
Next appointment: an assassination. His target is his doppelganger; he switches identities with him, but is wounded by his double at the last second. One survives; we don’t know which.
Next: a deathbed scene with a niece, to whom he left a great deal of his money. But the “niece” was fulfilling an appointment of her own.
On the way to his last appointment of the day, his limo collides with Kylie Minogue’s. They have history together, and this 30 minute window may be the last they ever have together. Their musical number bulges at the seams with melodrama, but since we don’t have any of the backstory, we have to take the actors at their word. He has something to tell her, but leaves without saying it; Kylie takes her wig off in order to become the suicidal character she’s playing. Blurred boundaries; classic meta-movie rubber reality. The ledge jump makes me think of Wings of Desire.
The Actor is torturing himself, not eating, wallowing in melodrama. The Tortured Artist is a toxic archetype that has no place in modern life. I’m guessing the movie feels the same way, or maybe I just hope it does. It’s painting him as an asshole, but I don’t think it’s saying that this is the way things must be for artists.
The surprise appearance of the chimp, and the camera crawling around the outside of the house, peeking in the windows, remind me of Phenomena and Tenebre, respectively.
At the end of the day, all the limos employed by Holy Motors talk among themselves about how people “don’t want visible machines anymore.” Live action cinema’s fear of being replaced by computer animation?
The douchebaggery of the lead character paints artists in as negative a light as Black Swan or Synecdoche, New York. (Or maybe it just warns of the pitfalls awaiting the artist on his/her path.) But if this final segment is implying that cinema as an art form is a luxury limousine, I’d of course be inclined to agree.