Over the course of his working day, Oscar (Denis Lavant) keeps many different appointments around the city of Paris and inhabits many different characters – an elderly beggar woman, a father, a lover and a weird sort of leprechaun man. The audience is unclear and the question arises; where is the line between fantasy and reality?
First things first, Holy Motors is incredibly odd, but once the audience gets past questioning what the heck is actually going on and goes with the absurdity of the film, it is rather enjoyable. Oscar is driven around the city of Paris in a white limousine that also serves as his dressing room. Periodically, Oscar emerges from the car as a different character and sets off on an adventure. The parameters of each ‘appointment’ is laid out to Oscar in files, but the audience is as much in the dark as the members of the public that encounter him.
Lavant inhabits each character fully. He is transformed each time through make up and wigs, but it is the power of his performances that make sure that the characters work. As an elderly beggar, Oscar is transformed into a woman that you would probably cross the road to avoid, he acts for motion capture performances, he ‘murders’ several people and, as the highly stylised and over the top leprechaun man named Monsieur Merde, he leaves a trail of destruction through Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris before biting off a woman’s fingers and kidnapping a Kay M, a model played by Eva Mendes. While each transformation may confuse the audience even further, there is a level of acceptance from some of the people that Oscar encounters in his life that this is a normal profession and way of life. While Oscar completely becomes each of his characters, there is a sadness to the man behind the mask that is evident throughout, but only vocalised when he meets the Man With the Birthmark (Michel Piccoli).
Eva Mendes plays statuesque model Kay M, who acquiesces completely to her kidnap and even goes so far as to lull her captor to sleep. She has little to do other than look pretty, but the good news is that she does it incredibly well. Kylie Minogue sings, acts and speaks French during her encounter with Oscar, and it is through this meeting, and her slightly over the top musical number, that the tragedy of Oscar’s life and his search for something that is real is brought to light.
Leos Carax has created a film that does not provide answers to the questions it raises. It is up to the audience to make their own assumptions about the film, and it is through our reactions to the charcaters that we learn more about this odd, mysterious and utterly compelling film.
In all, Holy Motors is an odd, disjointed exploration of life and the search we all go through to find the place we call home. I may be wrong, but I can see Jean Paul Gaultier championing this film during the Jury discussions at the Cannes Film Festival.