Starring Denis Lavant and Edith Scob. In French with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Friday, November 16, at the Vancity Theatre
Stretch limos played a significant role in two of the films competing at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but it seems likely that history will remember one more fondly than the other. Cosmopolis did not show director David Cronenberg to best advantage, while Holy Motors represented a return to form for French cinema’s long-idled maverick Leos Carax.
The fact that no one could definitively say what Holy Motors—the director’s first full-length feature since 1999—was about is beside the point. Carax has always been a man of visions, not vision. Basically, he’s more concerned with the individual fragments in his “stained-glass windows” than he is with the overall design. He’s an artist who doesn’t feel the need to play the prophet.
Oscar (the impossibly athletic Denis Lavant) takes the phrase “all the world’s a stage” a little more literally than most. As he tours the boulevards and back alleys of Paris in a white limousine driven by the mysterious Céline (Edith Scob), he constantly makes himself up in order to assume real-life roles, many of which defy logic (at one point, he plays both a murderer and the murderer’s victim; at another, he becomes Monsieur Merde, the red-bearded, flower-eating ogre first introduced in Carax’s contribution to the three-part anthology film Tokyo! ).
Holy Motors spreads cinematic references by the bucketful in its various vignettes. Some of them are intensely personal (the ruined La Samaritaine department store, which constitutes the film’s single most astonishing set, is close to the Pont Neuf, both the site and part of the title of the director’s most celebrated cinematic folly), others more general (the mask that Céline puts on at the end is meant to remind us of Scob’s key role in Georges Franju’s horrific 1960 masterpiece, Eyes Without a Face).
Perhaps not the perfect film for general audiences, this is high-octane moonshine for film buffs, a perfect opportunity to get drunk on an intoxicating waterfall of surrealist imagery.
Watch the trailer for Holy Motors.