While attending Fantastic Fest in September, I overheard a conversation in the bathroom that went something like this:
Attendee One: Dude...Have you seen Holy Motors yet?
Attendee Two: No, I’m not sure what it’s all about, really.
Attendee One: Perfect, you don’t want to know anything about it, just go see it, immediately.
The confidence and urgency with which Attendee One spoke of Holy Motors, directed by French auteur Leos Carax, aligns with the positive press the film receiving since opening.
Earlier in the year, the French production won the esteemed Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, and it has since received an overwhelmingly positive critical response.
The film follows Monsieur Oscar, played by longtime Carax collaborator Denis Lavant, throughout his work day, which consists of moving from one life to another — an Eva Mendes kidnapping troll, a bold assassin and a motion capture actor, amongst others — and acting out events in each life, a role that seems to be fading away in importance.
Why this is Oscar’s job is less important than what each job represents; and what kind of person Oscar might be is less important than why he does what it does. The plot is a vehicle used to explore a variety of ideas about film, the past and future of the art, and what it means to society.
Knowing none of this, I took that Fantastic Fest goer’s advice and secured a ticket for the next screening, making certain to avoid any conversation — online or otherwise — about the film. And having done so, I can strongly advise any prospective viewers to not take that approach.
Not to say that Holy Motors isn’t deserving of the praise it's received or that it is anything less than a monumentally important piece of filmmaking, but it does require a different approach to viewing. The movie demands a level of attention that most Hollywood productions shy away from.
Should that sound pretentious, let me note that Holy Motors is anything but. The film is earnest in its ambition and confident in its approach, creating an oddly cohesive whole that begs for multiple viewings.
Open since November 2, Holy Motors doesn’t rely on a traditional narrative or even a conventional sense of character development — it's more a celebration of cinema.
I went in to the screening expecting a story with characters, motivations and explanations for the ideas explored within the film, but that’s not what Holy Motors is. In fact, that’s not even what Holy Motors wants to be, or even attempts to be — and really, that is a large portion of what makes the film so special.
A film similar to Synecdoche, New York in it’s complexity and ambition, Holy Motors is not a film that everyone should see, it is a film that everyone must see, because its impact will likely be felt for years and years to come.
Just don’t take any advice about going into the movie blind — learning about the film will only enhance the experience.
Holy Motors opened in Dallas on November 2, and will be coming to Austin Drafthouse's in the near future.