NYFF Daily Reviews: Holy Motors


Today, our Nick Schager takes on the tumultuous dreamscape that is Holy Motors.

Holy Motors
Directed by Léos Carax
Screens Thursday, October 11

Léos Carax detonates as many traditional notions of cinema as possible with Holy Motors, a fantastic – and sometimes phantasmagoric – saga through a cine-metaphoric dreamscape.

Opening with scratchy archival footage and a countershot of a rapt theater audience proves to be Carax’s initial, but hardly final, nod to the fact that his first feature since 1999’s Pola X is concerned with the relationship between art and spectator. That bond only grows in weirder, wilder ways after Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) walks through a secret door in his motel room (near an airport, a symbol of transition) and finds himself in a theater balcony in a haunting moment of filmic surrealism that recalls David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

Nonetheless, even that beguiling intro hardly foreshadows the identity-shifting madness to follow, in which Oscar is driven around Paris by Céline (Edith Scob) in a white limousine-cum-dressing-room, completing nine “appointments” that require him to don makeup guises and assume bizarre roles out in public.

Those include an old, crippled female beggar, the father of a tween girl, a dying old man, and the gibberish-spouting, money-eating, long-goateed monster Levant previously played in Carax’s contribution to the 2009 triptych Tokyo!.

Here, that milky-eyed man-creature enacts a wacko Beauty and the Beast-style affair with Eva Mendes’ unperturbed fashion model in a sequence of supreme hilarious craziness that features Mendes’ dress being cut into a burka and veil, and a nude and fully erect Levant lying his head in Mendes’ lap while she sings him a lullaby. The point of this episodic insanity, as it were, would seem to be simultaneously expanding and collapsing the possibilities of film, all while recognizing life (like cinema) as a myriad series of roles to be assumed and jettisoned – including, according to Carax’s loony finale, marriage and parentage to monkeys. (Nick Schager)

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