A baffling odyssey through nocturnal Paris, Holy Motors merges doppelgangers with hit men and monstrous hobos to present one of the most talked-about must-see pictures of the year.
Denis Lavant is Monsieur Oscar, a veritable Man of 1,000 Faces as he is chauffeur-driven by elegant Céline (Edith Scob, the cult star of 1960’s Eyes without a Face) from one appointment to another. During the various journeys he transforms himself into a succession of characters. Arriving at his destinations – a bridge, a cemetery, a sewer, a warehouse – he enacts a variety of scenarios that involve charity, lovemaking, kidnapping and murder.
A disparate cast list includes Scob, Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue but this is Lavant’s film. Reuniting with writer/director Leos Carax 12 years after 1999’s Pola X Lavant storms through a dizzying array of roles as he acts out the orders of an unseen boss.
Reminiscent of a 1970s portmanteau film from the Amicus stable, Holy Motors is deliberately vague and schizophrenically illuminating. Obtuse in a David Lynchian way, it eschews a wider ensemble to allow Lavant to disappear into multiple vignettes, often under layers of outlandish prosthetics.
Carax leaps from one seemingly disconnected tale to another. In one M. Oscar is a motion-capture artist entwined with a statuesque female as they make virtual love; in the next he is a loping lunatic prowling a graveyard where supermodel Kay (Mendes) is the star of a photoshoot.
Carax is careful not to give away too many clues – if indeed he presents any at all. What is the purpose of M. Oscar’s ritual? Are his killings for real? Who is he? Does he actually exist? Is he an instrument of God – being delivered in a celestial car?
Frequently infuriating, constantly impressive and a significant talking point for any after-dinner gathering, Holy Motors is about life and death and whole damn thing. Whatever you end up thinking about it, you’re probably wrong. Or right. Who knows?