Holy Motors begins with a man waking up in a hotel room and walking through a wall into a cinema. What he sees on the screen is a banker with a family on his way to work, but we soon realise that this is a role the man (Oscar) is playing as he takes his limousine to a host of other locations around Paris to act out further roles.
Directed by Leos Carax, Holy Motors consists of a number of scenes from all sorts of genres spliced together into one film. Starring Denis Lavant as Oscar as well as Oscar’s many roles or “assignments” the film presents us with several scenes that are not privy to the laws of cause-and-effect. We, the audience, are eventually desensitised to the actions on-screen as the emotion that Oscar brings to each scene is shown to be inconsequential as he leaves one assignment to continue on to the next.
By taking scenes, such as an emotional death-bed confession, out of a narrative context it exposes the falseness of them and ultimately making us indifferent to them. Towards the end of the film, as Oscar is about to enter his house for the night, he gives a weary sigh that is sad for the fact that it inspires no real emotion in the viewer, who by now has learned to detach from this man’s many lives. Even those who could respond to this moment are further shunned when we meet Oscar’s family.
The idea behind the film is interesting but by the end of the third assignment the audience begins to realise what Oscar is. At this point the film does nothing to change its trajectory and becomes almost conventional in how it tells its story. The consequences of emotionally pushing an audience away is that the later scenes cause a visceral response that feels more like ennui than anything, of course a good French art-film never prides itself on being entertaining.
Still there is much to enjoy here with Denis Lavant’s amazing performances in each of his roles including a motion-capture scene towards the beginning of the film that is both visually stunning and bizarre and a musical interval in a church that is delightfully pointless.
By taking film scenes out of context, Holy Motors poses interesting questions about the importance of illusion in film to extract a visceral response, but its flame extinguishes somewhat before the credits roll. Watch the trailer now on MEG.ie. In cinemas 28 September 2012.