A cinema audience are asleep as the film plays out before them and in an adjacent room a man (Leos Carax) wakes up in bed. He gets up, walks around the walls and unlocks a hidden door with a key attached to his finger, then goes through to enter the balcony of the auditorium where he notices a small child followed by a couple of huge dogs making their way up the aisle. Meanwhile, Oscar (Denis Lavant) is setting out for work; his family wave him goodbye for the day and he climbs into the limousine which will take him to his destinations, for Oscar has many jobs to fuilfil...
And not all of them reasonable, indeed they are pretty much all crazy, in this, the first feature from writer and director Leos Carax since Pola X in 1999. He had contributed short works in that time, but nothing quite as ambitious as Holy Motors, nor one which divided its audience so completely down the middle, with some proclaiming it a masterpiece and others rolling their eyes and dismissing it as pretentious claptrap. Yet for all the hostility Carax received for not explaining every bit of this film, actually he explained very little which was likely the cause of the consternation, he did appear to have a sincere method in his madness as he examined the strange lifestyle of a filmmaker.
Not just himself as a filmmaker, but the actors who show up for a job, act out something they would never dream of doing in real life whether because it was beyond the laws of science or because it's simply not the sort of thing a normal person carries out, and have to go home as if they were an ordinary soul being professional in their occupation. The business that Lavant would get up to here was not going to obviously slot into many kinds of movies in themselves, but you got the gist as Oscar plays out various scenes his chauffeuse Céline (played by veteran star Edith Scob) takes him to in the limo which would broadly fit a definition of a genre: love story, horror flick, family drama, musical, and so on.
The content of those setpieces was what baffled so many viewers, leaving them unsure of when or if they should be laughing, and it was true a lot of this was very funny in its blankly strange fashion, yet then there would be a scene aiming for the tearducts which didn't quite gel with the rest of it because you were waiting for the next example of weirdness to set Oscar off on another journey. Therefore we may have been watching him indulge in a soul searching heart to heart with Kylie Minogue who expresses her sorrow by trilling a melancholy tune, but then again we have also seen him kidnap Eva Mendes from a photo shoot, take her to the sewers, tear up her dress to make a burqa and curl up naked and sexually aroused on her lap.
It could be that Carax was hedging his bets by packing in as much of what was on his mind as possible, as if this was the last chance he'd get to be so personal and creative: make no mistake, that was one fertile imagination he had in his noggin even if it didn't translate to universal inspiration. This lifestyle is taking its toll on Oscar - which is Carax's genuine middle name, make of that what you will - and Lavant worked wonders in both inhabiting every role he was required to and keeping some sense of continuity as he was dressed up as an elderly beggar woman in one scene and murdering a man who turns out to be himself in different makeup in another. That Holy Motors was frequently ridiculous was much of the charm, though also the reason it would be difficult to get along with should you allow suspicion as to Carax's motives into your thoughts: when a heartfelt deathbed scene resolved itself into both participants saying thanks, good to work with you, maybe see you again there appeared to be a crisis of the worth of fiction going on, never mind the roles we take in life.
Stylish, semi-improvisational French writer-director, a former critic who developed from short films into features with the well regarded Boy Meets Girl. However, it was the futuristic romance Mauvais Sang that really awarded him international attention and all looked well for his lavish love story follow up, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. Unfortunately it was a failure and it was the end of the nineties before his subsequent film, family drama Pola X, arrived. Carax's cult following increased when after making short films for the next decade he completed his curious, much discussed feature Holy Motors which delighted and confounded in equal measure. Often works with Denis Lavant.