Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holy Motors

HOLY MOTORS (Leos Carax, 2012)

Rather than being rooted in plot, HOLY MOTORS takes a journey through cinema via paired scenes that explore the human condition and technological evolution.  It organizes around the work day of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), who rides in the back of a white limousine around what may be a future version of Paris.  His elegant chauffeur Céline (Édith Scob) drives him to nine appointments.  Based on ambiguous conversations and Oscar’s appearance, it is suggested that he holds a position of power in the financial industry, but his assignments soon reveal his occupation to be something much different.

At the first stop he emerges from the car as an indigent, crippled, old woman and begs for money from passersby while moaning how nobody loves her.  When his work is done, he returns to the vehicle serving as his mobile dressing room and prepares for the next job as a motion capture performer in a state of the art studio.  Throughout the day he changes roles for the unseen cameras and crew in what cinema has become in the world of HOLY MOTORS.

Like a prayer for the dying, writer-director Leos Carax’s confounding and exhilarating film is draped in a mournful air.  There’s a deep sense of what has been and is being lost as technical innovations transform life and art as they’ve existed for centuries.  More specifically, HOLY MOTORS grieves for the loss of the tangible as progress favors the ephemeral.  Oscar expresses affection for the large, noisy cameras of old, which now have shrunk to the point of being almost unnoticeable.  Headstones don’t display epitaphs but direct visitors to websites.  Sex happens in the virtual domain.  Department stores give way to e-commerce.  Existence is in the cloud and can be easily manipulated.  Whether explicitly choosing to be something else or tweaking the code, the self is mutable in this new age.

Yet the artistic vitality and humor with which Carax undertakes the decline of analog permanence and rise of digital tempers the pain and fear of advancement.  HOLY MOTORS is gloriously alive with experimentation and the centrality of human involvement regardless of what form the end product of their efforts takes.  Even if people are cogs in the machine, they are the animating force.  Witness the physical beauty and grace of Oscar’s recorded fight choreography in the motion capture studio and the intense eroticism of his interaction with the cyber woman (Zlata) who later appears there.  
Carax devotes a great deal of time to show how people can alter themselves significantly through makeup and wardrobe, again highlighting the importance of human contribution.  HOLY MOTORS celebrates performance, and Lavant, inhabiting eleven characters, seizes the opportunity.  He displays astonishing range in roles that demand him to be pitiable, athletic, grotesque, menacing, and endearing.  His greatest accomplishment comes in the film’s funniest section in which he reprises the part of Merde, a chain-smoking, flower-munching, gibberish-speaking creature who climbs out of the sewer and wreaks havoc in proper society.  (Merde first appeared in Carax’s short in the omnibus film TOKYO!)  

The changes HOLY MOTORS studies have as much to do with the movies as anything else.  Cinema’s history and genres interact through juxtaposition while a vigorously played entr’acte emphasizes the duality.  Neorealism and the CGI era are linked through their symmetry and asymmetry.  A beauty and the beast fairy tale precedes a coming of age docudrama.  Scenes that could have come from a gangster film and an action movie are paired, as are a chamber drama and musical tragedy.  The domestic surrealism of the ninth appointment rhymes with and diverges from the impersonal modernist home Oscar departs from to begin his day’s labor.  

As heady as HOLY MOTORS can be, Carax playfully arranges the pieces.  Merde rampages through a cemetery to the theme from GODZILLA and guides the supermodel (Eva Mendes) he abducts through a private fashion show.  Kylie Minogue, playing one of Oscar’s fellow performers, drops in to sing a song as though she’s been transported out of the French New Wave.  Datamoshing gives unusual beauty to image corruption.  HOLY MOTORS reflects wistfully on what once existed and ultimately revels in the primitive impulses and dreams that persist across time.   

Grade: A

No comments:

Post a Comment