Do you have a particular ability to tolerate the ambiguous? Are you comfortable watching films that test the limits of suspension of disbelief? Then I would suggest watching Holy Motors (2012), directed by Leos Carax. In this film, Denis Lavant plays Monsieur Oscar, a mysterious individual whose job involves attending mysterious appointments – of which he has nine planned during the span of one day.
The premise of this film is more than a little bit illogical. We begin the film with an incredibly symbolic sequence of a man (played by the director) entering a cinema through a wall in his house, and we never see him again. We are then introduced to Oscar, who introduces us to the concept of his nine appointments, but does not tell us what they entail. The film is structured around these appointments, which provide the overarching framework for the film. However, the appointments themselves are standalone, disconnected stories, and range from the innocuous (i.e., accordion flash mob) to life-threatening (i.e., murder).
Oscar is driven to each appointment by his driver, Céline, played by Edith Scob, who portrayed the iconic Christiane in Eyes Without a Face (1960). There’s a very nice nod to Eyes Without a Face at the end of the film, but I won’t spoil it for you.
I had so many questions about this film, as I was watching it. “What is this guy doing? Is he an assassin? Is he an actor, illusionist, performance artist?”. The film kept me guessing for the entirety of its duration, and I love it when that happens. It reminded me a lot of Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005) in this way. You come to learn, very early on, that you can’t have any expectations for this story. It thwarts any pre-conceived ideas that you have, because just when you think it can’t get any weirder, it descends into new levels of crazy.
Oscar attends appointments where he has to be a beggar, pick up ‘his’ daughter from a party, wander through a cemetery, go right down to murder town, among many others. These appointments are bookended by his return to Céline in the car – so that he can fix his appearance and be driven to the next appointment. As the viewer, you know when each appointment begins and ends, although these lines are increasingly blurred towards the end. But what you really want to know is, where does Oscar’s personal identity begin and end? We’re not shown much of him as himself, until later on. Oscar is a blank slate upon which he can place the multiple identities he needs for his appointments. Denis Lavant is actually amazing in this role and is such a chameleon. He is no one trick pony, and is a consistent surprise to watch.
Holy Motors has some of the most beautiful sound design that I’ve experienced as of late. When Oscar attends an appointment where he must shoot guns and run on a treadmill whilst wearing an illuminated motion capture suit – which escalates into a computer-rendered lizard-y sex scene – the sounds are initially normal to the ear, and then they slow down, becoming reverberating, rotating noise. Your eyes are assaulted with the weirdest visions, but your ears are almost placated by the repetitive noise. It also goes without saying that the cinematography and visuals are superb, if incredibly mind-boggling at times. The film is very cleverly shot, and it seems that each of Oscar’s appointments has its own visual tone.
There are also cameos in Holy Motors by Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue. Eva Mendes plays a model who is squirreled away underneath a Parisian cemetery by Oscar when he is attending an appointment as ‘Monsieur Merde’ – a flower-eating, gibberish-speaking, physically repugnant leprechaun-like individual. Eva Mendes shines in this scene. I’ve never been impressed by her in a film before this one. Her restraint in her role as the silent, compliant model is impressive. Whereas in comparison, Kylie Minogue is not the best in this film, despite the fact that her scene is fairly poignant and calls to mind the themes of the film as a whole. She gets her turn to sing, though.
What is going on in Holy Motors? Who is Monsieur Oscar? What is he doing? What happens to the people affected by his appointments? These are questions you’ll find yourself asking over and over again whilst watching. However, instead of leaving you feel unfulfilled, on the contrary, this film makes you feel overcome by its mystery; especially during its final scene. Some might find its lack of definitive answers frustrating, but the fact remains that this is one of the most unique films of recent times.
Watch the trailer here.