Describing Holy Motors is a bold undertaking, being a 2012 avant-garde movie by Leos Carax, a daring example of cinematic experimentation.
The narrative unravels following an unusual “work” day of the mysterious Alex Oscar, an eclectic, metamorphic, and chameleon-like protagonist who moves around Paris, stepping into different characters.
At his side is loyal driver Celine, who seems to know every facet of her enigmatic passenger.
Oscar begins as an established businessman, surrounded by bodyguards but visibly restless in the luxurious interior of the limousine, returning actor and studying the nine dates and transformations awaiting him.
As he exits the car, it is another man: an elderly, limping beggar whose curved, resigned figure solicits the indifference of passersby, who shun him as an annoying hindrance on the sidewalk.
In an instant, we are plunged into a motion-capture studio where Oscar performs athletic combat performances, fading into an erotic dance between two demonic creatures.
Even more bizarre is the next turn, becoming a disgusting goblin who emerges from the darkness and bursts onto a photo shoot, kidnapping a stunningly beautiful model to take her with him into the sewers.
We are so astonished that we are stunned to return to the ordinariness of a caring father retrieving his daughter from a party. Still, the happy appearance soon fades amid lies and resentment.
Soon after, as night falls, Oscar is a cheerful musician filling the streets with accordion melodies along with his band.
But the merriment fades before the disturbing murder of a ruthless killer, who then adopts a macabre disguise and turns the victim into himself.
There follow some sad and romantic interludes between an ailing billionaire, surrounded by luxury but visibly frail, with a young niece at his bedside, until the poignant reunion where Oscar reunites with an old colleague he has not seen in 20 years.
The day draws to a close with a familiar return to the safety of home, but we wonder, how much of this is real?
It really doesn’t matter because, in the end, a smile before midnight matters. As night envelops the city, the limousines, silent sentinels, rest in the parking lot of Holy Motors, pondering the inescapable fate that awaits them.
Life imitates art, and art becomes life
Holy Motors begins with a dream sequence, with Carax emerging alone from a secret room inside a movie theater, strolling on the balcony overlooking the room as if to introduce us to his bizarre and original artistic vision in this 2012 movie.
It is a story leaving aside narrative to focus on talent, especially the chameleon-like protagonist as a revenge against the ordinary world of cinema that only wants to amaze spectacularly, often forgetting the pure joy of acting.
Denis Lavant, in fact, is an extraordinary lead actor. An ever-changing character who goes through many roles within the same film.
Transforming naturally from an elderly beggar to a half-blind monster who kidnaps the magnificent Eva Mendes, or a romantic interlude on the roof of a ruined building with the unrecognizable pop star Kylie Minogue.
In the transition between dates, the man puts makeup on the car and becomes an entirely different person as if Carax wanted to show us the tricks behind the circus of cinematic fiction.
Truth and deception intermingle el the long day, when Oscar’s experiences become extremely varied and outlandish, sometimes exceeding the limits of the physical possibilities of reality.
Equally brilliant is the wise Édith Scob, who accompanies him driving the limousine, patiently waiting for his return, encouraging him to rest and eat when he is tired and depressed.
It is a relationship that is never made explicit to us directly. Still, we understand it to be one of deep respect and to last a long time for a profession like being an actor that now seems to be on its way out.
So life becomes a performance, far from any commercial intent, but only with the sheer will and pleasure of telling a story that is absurd, incomprehensible, yet equally clear and definitive.
Fragments of a cinema that no longer exists
Holy Motors is a movie that means nothing yet has everything in it, tying seemingly random events together almost without logic in one of the most bizarre cinematic experiences before and after 2012.
Carax challenges our ability to accept art in all forms, taking us to stroll through magical Paris as the chauffeur Celine relentlessly accompanies the perpetually changing Oscar.
The result is a unique atmosphere whose essence continually challenges the fundamental nature of what we witness, mixing drama, romance, and surrealism, pushing the boundaries of the possible and the believable.
It is an act of love for pure cinema that goes beyond genres, screenplay, and characters who tell us nothing beyond their names, going and vanishing like fleeting glimmers in the dark.
An emptiness is full of meanings to be sought elsewhere, in each glance and mutation of the protagonist, where a new story is born at each stage of this journey that changes the overall meaning of what has been seen before.
The infallible Oscar dies and is reborn like a cinematic phoenix in each new role, rising to a new life from the most impossible extreme and crazy consequences.
I may be confusing you instead of clarifying. Still, Holy Motors is undoubtedly one of the most twisted and fascinating films of recent years.
Despite its weak worldwide box office, it has been widely appreciated by all international critics. Even some of the public, proving that there are still those who can understand the sound work of the old cinema artisans.
For those of you who are first-timers with surrealism, this is a perfect opportunity to see something more challenging, which is never fully explained and leaves a broad interpretation of its scenes to the imagination and intelligence of the viewer.