A movie about movies is not new. But Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” is not “Day For Night” or “The Last Picture Show.” It is not a narrative melodrama highlighting the process of production or the struggles of the stars. It is not about the movie within a movie. It is about cinema. It is about role playing. It is about acting, be it in art or the many faces we wear in our everyday lives.
Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) is driven in a white limo to various appointments throughout the day, transforming himself from beggar to motion-capture artist, to monster, to dying uncle and more. Acting each part as assigned, but never to a camera. Never to an audience. Never to a conclusion. Each part is brief and unexplained. The why is never answered, the film only shows the how. But even the how becomes unclear as Oscar escapes police, judgment and even death without an explanation. The typical tools of cinema do not apply in “Holy Motors,” as the vignettes of Oscar’s scenes flip from horror to gangster to musical. Archetypes are abandoned and the narrative a mosaic of fractured pieces, only realized days later after hours pondering the picture.
This type of film, which leaves you thoroughly entertained but thoughtfully perplexed, is extremely rare. The intellectual engagement it requires is part of the risk and reward of the viewer. Casual viewers will hate it. Committed cinephiles should love it. And, most astonishing in our media-saturated society, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it.