Nov 2, 2012

Holy Motors

Another example of French cheesy pretentiousness (or pretentious cheesiness), which garnered inexplicably good reviews, this film by Leos Carax is a high concept bonbon. Alex, an unsmiling Denis Lavant, goes in a white limo to several appointments through Paris. In each appointment he disguises himself as a character (the makeup design is spectacular): a poor old female beggar, a businessman, a crazy imp who scares people at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. The idea is that people do not want to see their stories on screens anymore. They want them to be as real as possible, in front of their eyes. The screens keep getting smaller, so actors like Alex go from one assignment to the other creating stories. It's a nifty concept, allright, and one of the rare instances I wish Hollywood (Spielberg, Zemeckis, or even better, Spike Jonze, say) would borrow it and make a much more entertaining movie out of it.
At least the cheese would not have intellectual airs; it would have more pizzazz.
The problem is the humorless, unimaginative execution. The grandiose tackiness keeps mounting, as in a vulgar sequence where the imp kidnaps "supermodel" Eva Mendez (such a good sport, and so wasted), and brings her to a cave, showing his prosthetic erection - very distracting as you might imagine - and fashions a burqa to cover her, a mortal sin, as far as I'm concerned. But there is no rhyme nor reason for this or any other story. It's all in Carax's head: clunky, obvious, juvenile and self-important.
Some moments are meant to evoke magic. The liveliest is an "intermission" in which Lavant plays an accordion followed by a merry band of players inside a church. Nice steadicam work. The rest is not as adeptly staged. An extended sequence inside the abandoned La Samaritaine department store, featuring Kylie Minogue (!), for instance, aims for melancholy, but it's rather drab. The whole movie looks opaque and tired, not very inspired, like poor Alex.
Still, Lavant is riveting as he applies and takes off his amazing makeup jobs. He is obviously versatile. He has the body of a dancer or a circus performer, and he becomes all these characters, none of which has a sense of humor. There is an inkling of the magical, sacred work that actors do, how their work may affect their feelings, as well as ours, but the stories are mostly preposterous and not emotionally engaging. In fact, it's the random ridiculousness of the stories, and the heavy handed attempt at some sort of surrealism, that makes Holy Motors exasperating. Only for those with a high tolerance for French cheese.

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