A few writers from Way Too Indie sit down to discuss, analyze and break-down some of the elements found in Holy Motors. This is a film that can be difficult to fully interpret because there are many possible meanings behind what goes on. The purpose of this feature is to present a unique format that is personal, colorful and informative. Reactions from the staff below may contain some spoilers but Holy Motors is a film that is hard to spoil.
Discussion and Analysis of Holy Motors
Dustin: Leos Carax’s Holy Motors was incredibly well received at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year where it was nominated for the top prize of Palme d’Or and won Award of the Youth. After seeing the trailer I figured it would not be your average film, but it was impossible to expect this. Where you as taken aback by the film as most people were?
Blake: I was very taken aback by the film, but not in a bad way. I felt like the director set up a very in vigorous energy within 10 minutes and I was able to get into it. I expected a little more of a “plot”. But was not at all turned off by the film’s audacity at being out there. More importantly, the film for me works as it is. Its out there. But it sticks to its rules.
Brett: I knew nothing of this film before watching it and all I was told was that it was “fairly bizarre.” That to me was the understatement of the century. I knew it was receiving awards and has been fairly well rated on review aggregate sites but I didn’t expect the absurdity of Holy Motors. I had to get black out drunk after I watched it and when I woke up, I discovered that I really enjoyed it.
CJ: I was expecting something weird but I wasn’t surprised or taken back by what I saw. The only thing I’ve seen by Leos Carax other than this is his segment from the movie Tokyo! which has Denis Lavant playing the same freakish man in green who kidnapped Eva Mendes in this movie. I paid attention to the response out of Cannes which ruined a few of the surprises but overall I wasn’t too shocked by what I saw. That doesn’t mean I didn’t find it VERY weird either.
Brett: Yeah that pseudo leprechaun guy from Tokyo! had me left with a “What is currently happening” grin for that entire scene. I would like to see the expression on Denis Lavant’s face when he read that scene from the script.
Blake: For those who didnt know, the music the green guy was running around to is the theme to the original Godzilla.
Dustin: A lot of films benefit from going into cold, not knowing anything about it often leads to surprises (both good and bad). I feel on rare occasions that knowing a little bit about what you are getting yourself into does help, like in the case of Holy Motors. Do you guys agree or not?
Blake: I disagree. There are times where I go into a film completely blind. Ive been lost many times watching movies. Generally Ill go read about it afterwards. If I agree with certain arguments for or against the film, Ill let my opinion change if needs to. I think going into a film blind is the best way to see a movie period. sometimes when CJ and I are talking about movies, he will just give me a sentence describing it and then he’ll say, “now go watch it.” And then we talk about it afterwards. Im rambling a little, but yeah, I think going in blind is the best way to see a movie.
Brett: I knew literally nothing about the plot of this film so to me, it was very rewarding to not know anything about it going in. It reminds me when I went to The Ring in 8th grade thinking it was a romantic comedy.
CJ: I prefer going into a film cold personally. I don’t think reading up or knowing about Holy Motors beforehand could really prepare people for the motion capture sequence or the entire Merde segment. The Cannes crowd didn’t have much to go on before they saw it and it worked like gangbusters for them. A film’s job is to work entirely on its own, you shouldn’t have to refer to anything beforehand to understand it. Let the movie do that for you. When I watch something the most I like to go by is a brief synopsis or a trailer, but trailers have been getting more and more detailed now so I’ve started to avoid them. It was probably worse for me reading up about the movie beforehand, I remember early plot descriptions said Denis Lavant played a hitman when that was clearly not the case.
Dustin: I would like to start with what I enjoyed most about Holy Motors, the lead actor Denis Lavant. Denis Lavant put on an undeniably fantastic performance playing the 11 roles in this film. Not only does he physically transform into all of these characters by switching out “costumes” but he truly became them.
Blake: The movie succeeds or fails on him
Brett: Yeah, I really felt like the plot of this film was just to give Denis Lavant a bunch of ways to win acting awards. He could act his way out of a gulag. The film should be called “Watch Denis Lavant Act”. I do think though, that without Denis Lavant going head first into every role he plays in Holy Motors, this film would have been awful.
CJ: Yeah I don’t think anyone can disagree about Lavant being great in this. He’s definitely one tiny man but with a ton of presence.
Dustin: My favorite part is when his character does not know how to light up a cigarette, even though his previous characters had smoked. He was so into character for each person he became.
Brett: Yeah, without giving too many spoilers away, lets name some of the most bizarre things that happened in that film. Leprechaun boners, talking limos, magic murders.
CJ: I liked how Carax decided to open his movie with the strangest material and then settle down.
Blake: Not bizarre, but my favorite part involved accordions.
Brett: Yeah! What in the Sam Elliot was that about? Suddenly: Musical number.
Blake: It was an intermission
CJ: The accordion scene is the Entreacte, it’s basically a musical intermission.
Brett: Oh clearly I totally gathered that.
Blake: I didnt until I read up on the film.
Dustin: I am with you Brett, I simply took it as his next appointment, I didn’t look into any further than that. I don’t think you need to.
Brett: Every film from here on out that wants to be taken seriously needs an accordion intermission
Dustin: All rules of conventional were thrown out from the very beginning, any thoughts on what the very beginning could mean?
Blake: Personally, I thought it meant that modern cinema is dead.
Brett: Well, I thought it was a theater in which the people were previously watching these “Actors” riding around in their limos but were now bored with it. Because in the Limo, the older dude warps in and tells him that the audience is becoming bored with the material and Lavant’s character needed to step up his game.
CJ: Well for the opening it helps knowing that this is Leos Carax’s first feature film in 13 years. I liked to think of it as him literally breaking his way back into the cinema again. It really could mean anything though, this movie can be taken in a lot of different ways.
Dustin: Brett brings up a good point about the man who shows up and tells him that the audience is becoming bored. My favorite line from the film was, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But what if there is no beholder?” It presents the question that if there is no audience, does it still happen? So it makes you think what is real and what is not. Is this what you guys got from this?
Brett: I was questioning reality by this point in the film so yeah.
Blake: For the first half of the film, I honestly felt like the movie was a meditation on the illusion of reality. What’s real what’s not. What is the performance?
CJ: That scene is a vital one since I think it gets to the major idea/theme in the movie. Mr. Oscar points out how he misses the days when cameras were big, bulky things that could be seen by the naked eye. I think Carax feels the same way, he misses the mechanics of movies that seems to be going away now with the introduction of digital filmmaking.
Dustin: From the few interviews I read about him, he does not consider himself a big cinema buff. The director has said it all started by being fascinated by limousines from weddings. They contradict themselves; “They say, ‘Look at me but don’t see me.'” He saw them as a symbol of the virtual world (much like our internet world), they want to be seen but won’t let you see in. One thing is for sure, you’ll never look at limos the same way again.
CJ: Yeah, Carax actually isn’t on good terms with the French film industry. He made a movie in the 90s that was a giant flop and I guess that helped explain why he’s only made 2 movies over a long period of time. I like what he said at Cannes. He said that cinema is a beautiful island with a giant graveyard
Blake: Is there any significance to his name being Oscar and the movie being about film?
CJ: Leos Carax is an anagram for Alex Oscar (Carax’s real name). Mr. Oscar is referred to as Alex at one point but I think he was in character.
CJ: The reviews I read beforehand used words like joyous to describe the movie, but I thought it was pretty sad. I wanted to know if you all felt the same.
Blake: I felt like the film was about the joys of filmmaking and going to the cinema. Yes, it was commentary on the state of film but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Dustin: I felt like the film had an overall sad tone to it. You get the sense that he has never stopped working. I actually can’t see how one could call it joyous. But on the other note, it was hard to feel too much for him since you knew nothing about him. Because he always changed into a different character, you never really knew who his character was. I found that interesting but at the same time I wish I knew more about him. The film only hints at who he was working for and why he is doing these appointments. The motive was never fully examined and I think some more background information would have served the audience better.
Brett: Yeah, but for the sake of flow and coherence. A little more back story would have been awesome in this film. Or even just a little more of a teaser of what is actually happening to Mr. Oscar. It was pretty dark to me.
CJ: I definitely got bugged by some details like Mr. Oscar’s inability to die, but now I think that other than one sequence every time he got out of the limo it was entirely set up. On the other hand it’s impressive how much the movie accomplishes without giving too much information away. Mr. Oscar is a bit of a mystery but in a way you get attached to him entirely by the roles he plays.
Dustin: I appreciated it much more than I liked it. If that makes sense.
CJ: I’m with Dustin too, but I liked it more than he did. I liked Carax’s ideas and what he was talking about, but the execution didn’t really grab me as much as I wanted it to. I wasn’t head over heels like other people have been but I enjoyed watching it. I think the “joyous” comments I read were referring to how the movie, which feels like it goes on about the ‘death of cinema,’ is so singularly weird and full of ideas that it shows how cinema is far from over.
Brett: I agree Dustin. Watching Denis Lavant act was a treat but the film overall to me was lacking a few things. Mainly sense.
Dustin: I found his final appointment very interesting. He ends the night in a different home that we saw him leave at the beginning of the film. You can then assume that he never really has a family or stops working.
Brett: Yeah, he leaves a mansion in the morning and goes to bed in a townhouse with chimpanzees.
CJ: I wondered if different actors would take the same roles over the day which might explain why we saw doubles of Mr. Oscar
Blake: What was the symbolism of him killing “himself”?
Brett: Of all the scenes, that one to me is the hardest to dissect. It starts out like a normal “appointment” but dissolves into him getting killed but then warping to the limo cleaning the makeup off.
CJ: I didn’t put much thought into it, I think it goes into the whole identity issue that runs throughout the movie/for Mr. Oscar. The fact that who exactly makes it back to the limo is left unanswered, but I think that question doesn’t even matter.
Blake: What would be everyone’s rating out of 10 for this? I’d give it an 8 myself.
Brett: Giving this film a rating would be like trying to rate a cloud. I give it a banana out of 10. Ok, so we established that you have to be savvy to Carax’s view on cinema. What about the common person viewing this film? What is it at face value? Closing statements.
CJ: I’ll say that this chat might sound critical of Holy Motors but it’s something worth seeking out. I don’t find it that abstract, it’s definitely out there but there’s a clear vision and message being put forth. I just found myself appreciating what was being brought up, but it didn’t really come together in a way that had me falling in love with the film
Brett: I agree CJ. Somehow, and I’m not even sure how, this film missed for me in a way I don’t even understand. If you want a night in bizarro land, Holy Motors will show you the way. And you will find your new favorite actor in the process.
Blake: While Holy Motors is bound to leave the majority of it’s viewer’s minds in complete disarray, its easy to say that the same majority will not be bored throughout its 2 hour runtime. At times it will frustrate you and at other times you’ll have too big of a smile on your face to care. There is a method to Carax’s madness, it just might require multiple viewings to figure it out. While Holy Motors isn’t perfect, there isn’t a better film that has been released this year that generates as much love of the art of film.
Dustin: I applaud its efforts to push the envelope in cinema, however, Holy Motors is one of those films that will either connect with you or not. As much as I wanted to connect with it, I could not. For me, Holy Motors felt more like a patchwork of a film, going between things that worked really well and things that did not. I felt like it just did not have good overall flow to it. It is one that I ultimately appreciated more than I liked but is one that should be watched. Holy Motors is a head of it’s time and I predict that it gets into the Creation Collection in the future.