Sunday, January 6, 2013

Reviews | Holy Motors (2012)

Holy shit! Where is my costume? I'm really late for work

So let's start off 2013 with the one of the most talked about movies from the arthouse cinema last year, Holy Motors. Let's just say off the bat that I can tolerate movies that have an experimental style that would baffle audiences and often they become great movies. Prime example? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Not only were the visuals hyper surreal in that film and Johnny Depp speaks like a 40s broadcaster, but the film carries an important point about the American dream and the numerous attempts in retrieving it turns the notion off its head. It maintains that notion while telling us the observations of the downfall of America. That was what made Fear and Loathing more than weird, it's fun as well.

That could be said with Holy Motors, but it actually doesn't do that. It's one of those films from last year that I have to see because only two kinds of people were talking about it. The cinephiles and the internet all of whom create a large amount of buzz and were drooling this surreal and confusing film as if it's a rise up above. I understand why some people would love to think that when a film is confusing, it has some sort of profundity to it. But I would like to quote from Lindsay Ellis a.k.a The Nostalgia Chick "confusion and despair are the same thing" which is what I felt about Holy Motors. I was perplexed with this film, but then I felt underwhelmed.

To actually try to explain Leo Carax's Holy Motors is almost like having to recap to someone what did you do in your entire year and every detail counts. But to put it in simpler terms, let's talk about The Simpsons. Remember that episode in which Bart is wondering what every individual in Springfield is up to and for that matter, those people have their own short stories; 22 to be exact. Well this is what Holy Motors is. A series of situations as reenacted and masqueraded by Mr. Oscar (Denis Laurant) who goes all over Paris with his chauffeur Celine in a limo almost reminiscent of that in Cosmopolis. He ahs a series of assignments and for each one, it involve dressing up as a homeless elderly woman, a motion capture performer, a troll, a gangster. In these assignments, he has to act as those personae as those people would typically do.

That's all I could some up about Holy Motors. First let's start off with what I admired about it. I really liked the cinematography of the film and some of it maintain the off-the-wall visuals the film really deliver. When Levant reenact these characters, he perform these people incredibly seamlessly and reenact scenes that are typical to every aesthetic of some genres presented in cinema such as a drama, a gangster film, a musical, even a porno. The idea Carax presents here is his love for cinema and that's hinted through black and white stills of some guy doing something. It's a love letter to performance art and it's pretty clear of what he is trying to do with this film. There was one scene in which Oscar plays another character as the leader of a marching band and that got me somewhat interested in the film and the direction it's heading.

But as soon as Oscar takes off his journey as the character performer, the film become underwhelming simply because for every character he plays and the events occuring are glaringly repetitive. Probably the fatal flaw the film suffers is the lack of connection between events. Holy Motor's storylines parallel with each other, but unfortunately there's little consistency that would help the film up to its feet.
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I never really grasp how the trollish Monsieur Merde would have in common with the rubber suit performer other than the fact that Oscar is playing both of them. Though I could bring how he dresses up as two hitmen in different costumes together as they both have similar jobs. If Carax wanted to pay homage to performance art, why does it have to be one sequence after another while in between Celine constantly remind Oscar "hey, this is what you have to dress up or you'll be late". It may sound like a reference to Alice in Wonderland, but I prefer the events taking place as an allegory for working in the entertainment industry like Hollywood where actors have to be scheduled to be in certain films under their wing. However since no one, including the people in the scenario and Oscar himself, cares much on what had happened, it's not brought up again in the movie. In substitute: the movie just doesn't have Mr Oscar to face any consequences of the characters he play.

It's perhaps the same problem I'd had with Cabin in the Woods in the way that the events of the movie strangely occur while we are the only people are observing this, but that no one in the movie is actually notice why or how is this happening. That plot device is like passing by a kid involved in a hit and run but you didn't see the kid because the people walking just didn't care. And those events only deliver a thinly veiled idea that isn't presented into a well-shaped plot.

The movement of events also adds to the repetition of the film as its pacing is all over the place. At the beginning, the film is incredibly slow moving like a snail, but when there are tension within these scenes the momentum jumps right up until it slows down to a scenario that I couldn't care less. Those intense moments include Oscar as Merde while caressing over Eva Mendes who plays a model, dressing her up her with a burqa while we see his erection and those assignments where he plays hitmen in where I don't want to spoil for you. These occurrences felt like it was there for shock value and you care little about him the more the scene went on.

Much of the film's abstract plot restricts any external logic. We don't know why Oscar do these appointments or how he feels about it, despite hearing some bruised old man at one point asking if he's exhausted from those trips. That's all the movie has provided in terms of working with that thread.

I don't really think Holy Motors is very important as an experimental film critics and audiences are believing it to be. It may be a film that is open with so much interpretation, but I'm not quite sure if it failed or succeeded because I didn't really see what's the expected outcome Carax is trying to bring across. If these vignettes were separated on its own as a series of short films, then it would've been more fascinating. But it's a very confusing and disjointed mess that doesn't go from Point A to B or to C even if it was intended not to do so.

However I will say this. This is a film that has so much creativity and artistry going on that I at least respect how Carax could handled it in this kind of filmmaking that is extremely unconventional. It is also one of those movies that grows on you that you wish you want to admire this film again with more than one watch.

Also the mis-en-scene of the cemetery which Monsieur Merde passes by had some engraved URLs which was somewhat interesting. It might deliver a comment on how deaths of real people will ultimately be spat on by trolls, to which Merde is. That's perhaps the one profundity I have found out from watching this.

Overall, this is a film that I yearn to revere more of, but unfortunately Holy Motors has little story to convey the events driving the film and as it went on it blurs the line between experimental and tolerable. And it's always important for a movie, unconventional or not, to contain a story. And the only way I can care about the movie is whether the narrative works and for me to do so I need to be interested in the characters, the screenwriting or the visual direction. You may think the other way around and either way is equally suitable. But without it, the movie has less emotional weight than it can carry and Holy Motors fell barren.

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