<Don’t read if you haven’t watched the film>
Yes, Holy Motors is inexplicable.
It can go both ways or any way for that matter (like the extent of its character’s tiresome practises to conjure up something holy for its audience to get entranced) and yes, it’s avant-garde.
But the “beauty of the act”, as reasoned by one of it’s actors for not giving up yet, (who is also a multi-purpose protagonist in the film) helps all the stories to be crafted into an entertaining phantasmagoria, that it is hard to dismiss it’s unconventional method with an uninterested eye. After all, the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, heh. One of those films that opens an endless debate.
A film about film as made obvious to it’s proud French New Wave roots (casting Edith Scob and Michel Piccoli) and several questions about the medium itself (although he sensitively opposes that very idea here), Carax’s Holy Motors is a provocative story about a man who has many lives in a film that manages to create it’s own strange fictional world. Carax uses his actor(s) in a way to encapsulate moments from familiar stories, (stories/”appointments” that are strange, beautiful, unrequited, painful, deceitful and familial) that emanate from the screen to engage audience who wish to lose themselves in that moment (read: who don’t fuss about context/thickening the plot). In this repeated exercise it is suggestive that this actor gets tired of these appointments (a deeply contemplating Oscar stands tentatively outside his house’s door before his last appointment for the day) i.e., these human moments that we as actors stage upon ourselves (only difference being) in the absence of any cameras. Surreal, isn’t it? Or a wee bit confusing probably.
In fact, the snippets of stories in the film, as disconnected as they may seem, becomes (only obvious) one, that by the end we tend to relate them, for example, “From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the shadowy life of Monsieur Oscar..” says IMDB. Ah, how easy we would like things to be? But such readings have shortcomings that leave you far from what the film aspires to be.
But the real high point (for myself of-course) of Holy Motors is how it doesn’t try to get sentimental about the medium through which it is mediating (i.e., no standard plot, character sketches, etc.) and yet manages to engage the viewer. Ruthlessly unapologetic. Several instances the film acts like a suggestive roman à clef from Carax like how he feels about the changing ways with which films are being made these days. In fact, the first scene is Carax waking up from his restless sleep in a dreary room to see what is going in films these days resonates with him trying hard to make this film from the 13 year break since Pola X as told by himself in every uncomfortable Q&A session he had to attend-
– A lingering sense of worry exists till the end and it seems heavy-hearted. Be it an old woman walking alone with confused discomfort in a busy street. Even the limousine cars have lives that they are worried to be replaced but goes about praying “Amen” in the end. Even a dying character after completing an “appointment” with high emotion, gets up and leaves unruffled but not before kindly asking the “real” name of it’s character’s nephew Lea (only to be joined with Kylie Minogue later for an unrequited love song). Probably films are an episodic appointment where we come for therapy to revive ourselves (?)- The audience seemed lost in the first few scenes.
Carax is strangely naughty when he is asking such doubts. There is a literal scene when Michel Piccoli questions Denis Lavant (who is named Oscar, which is actually Carax’s name in real) “Isn’t this nostalgia (about the size of cameras to believe in the medium) a bit too sentimental?” (This shot specifically, as many other shots in the film, is shot from inside a tight limousine corner by what could possibly be a camera whose size could only be lesser than that of a human head). Piccoli goes on to interject the film with a daunting morbidity about film being a surreal paradigm “Thugs don’t need to see the security cameras to believe in them” and raising a horrific doubt to the medium- what if there is no beholder to get mused by the beauty of the act? In simple words, are we living a film in which we just can’t possibly see the camera? Just possible isn’t it? Absolute.
The final song by Gerard Manset, “Revivre” sums up this feeling to the best.