Holy Motors
"Mendes more veiled than unveiled and, at times, resembling the Virgin Mary, is wonderful, confused and tender."

In a room with a sleeping dog on the bed and a wall of painted trees, Leos Carax finds a peephole and with a finger key, he, and a dog, who scampers like Dorothy's Toto, end up in a huge, packed cinema. Start the Holy Motors, blow the fog horns, let one of the most intriguing day trips into our eros and psyche begin!

Carax regular Denis Lavant (if you want to call him that - the director's last feature film was Pola X in 1999) plays Monsieur Oscar, who is driven around Paris in a white stretch limousine that includes a dressing room mirror, props and make-up, to nine appointments. Edith Scob, who portrayed the dying matriarch in Olivier Assayas's Summer Hours (2008) and whose eyes most famously starred in Georges Franju's Les yeux sans visage (1960), is the elegant chauffeur Céline, in an impeccable suit, with Kim Novak's Vertigo chignon holding her white hair, she has a concern about Monsieur Oscar's irregular eating habits. From time to time, her pronunciation of the cargo's name sounds like Scar, a fitting image.

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The film is dedicated to Claire Denis, Georges Franju, and Henry James. The last one might puzzle you, but after all, Pola X was based on Herman Melville's Pierre: Or, The Ambiguities. Maybe it isn't the author at all, and the dedication goes to Henry James Ford, Mr "Motor Man".

Monsieur Oscar, the film's motor as well as in the film's motor, transforms himself into a beggar woman on the bridge, a motion-capture gymnast, covered in white sensors, that could be mistaken for the flickering lights on the Eiffel Tower, a business man, or a dying man at the Hotel Raphael. At one point, he eats sushi in the car, at another he has a little chat with Michel Piccoli, then he kills his own doppelganger on assignment. If any of these lives don't please you, don't worry, the next one is around the curb.

Père Lachaise is the location to welcome back the character of Merde, that Lavant created for Carax's segment in Tokyo! (2008). Still dressed in a green suit, with Chaplinesque movements and walking stick, he is a creature of international sewers and likes to eat cemetery flowers. All the graves include an invitation to consult their website, and a fashion photographer in tennis shorts takes pictures of a model in mustard chiffon, played by Eva Mendes. What happens next, marks irrevocably the end to the "air quote" and Merde carries off Mendes to his lair, where he snacks on her hair extensions and she sings him a lullaby.

Mendes more veiled than unveiled and, at times, resembling the Virgin Mary, is wonderful, confused and tender. Kylie Minogue also puts in a superb performance as Jean, whose short blonde hair and trench coat link her to film history, half Jean Seberg, half Giulietta Masina. She sings a beautiful song on top of the gutted former Samaritaine department store and the biblical story of the woman giving water to Jesus, that originally gave the shoppers' paradise its name, overshadows the more recent past as a grand place of consumerism.

Time passes, a ship can be a house, a car can be a ship (and talk), but you always have to laugh before midnight, especially in Paris.

The engine of Holy Motors is a rather undisguised looking assignment, during which Monsieur Oscar picks up his daughter from a party. She lies about her enjoyment and her father pronounces a staggering penance: "Your punishment is to be you." Carax is deadly serious.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2012
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From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next.
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Director: Leos Carax

Writer: Leos Carax

Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Michel Piccoli, Leos Carax, Edith Scob, Elise Lhomeau, Jeanne Disson, Nastya Golubeva Carax

Year: 2012

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France, Germany


New York 2012

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