One of the secondary pleasures that certain movies offer to true addicts is the chance to spot affectionate nods to favourite films that their creators have slipped into them. These can be parodies of famous scenes and images that everyone is expected to recognise _ King Kong on top of the Empire State Building, the shower scene from Psycho, practically anything from Casablanca _ but are more revealing when they come from more obscure films that have special meaning for the director and give some insight into where his heart lies.
France/Germany, 2012, colour, 111 minutes Directed by Leos Carax and starring Denis Levant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue. In French with optional English subtitles. Extras include conversation with Carax at the 2012 Cannes festival, deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer. An Artificial Eye Region B Blu-ray release from the UK. Also available as a Region 2 DVD. A Region A Blu-ray, Region 1 release from the US is due later this month.
In Holy Motors, Leos Carax springs these allusions with manic glee. On the surface, the film comes across as a tribute to the actor's art: the enigmatic Monsieur Oscar (Carax regular Levant) sets out every morning in a white stretch limo driven by an elegant woman chauffeur (Scob) for a day of "appointments", all listed in a register placed next to him on the seat of the car.
On the day the film chronicles there will be nine of them, and, using costumes, make-up and props packed into the limousine's surrealistically large interior, M Oscar will transform himself into, among other identities, an old crone who begs on the street, a hyper-athletic motion-capture performer whose pantomimed sexual athletics with a female counterpart are transformed by computer into a kinky video game involving copulating dragons, a working-class father, two murderers, the flower-eating madman known as M Merde and a dying uncle in a deathbed scene out of Henry James.
Throughout all of this, Carax teases viewers who know his earlier work with a series of rubber peaches. The reason for calling the main character in a film about virtuoso acting "Oscar" might seem obvious until you recall that Carax's real name is Alex Oscar Dupont. What's more, one of the murderers Oscar impersonates is named Alex, and in his sequence the man he kills is another version of himself.
What's more, Alex (also played by Levant) was the name of the hero of Carax's earlier film Les Amants De Pont-Neuf (The Lovers On The Bridge), which, like this one, featured Edith Scob in a car.
Linking with all of this is the movie's prelude, which shows, first, a completely packed cinema in which the entire audience is asleep, and then cuts to a sleeping man (Carax himself) who awakens, scans a wall until he finds a concealed keyhole, and then uses his third finger, which has been replaced by a key, to open a hidden door that leads into the same dormant cinema. All a dream, then?
Maybe, but that seems too trite an explanation for a movie as intricately wrought as this one is. Some very interesting games are being played here.
As M Oscar moves from scenario to scenario, Carax is generous with the allusions to other films mentioned above. As I watched the film together with a French friend who seems to have seen and remembered every movie ever made in his country, the reference-spotting went on at such a pace that it resembled a game of Whac-a-Mole.
After the crazed M Merde pushes down a blind man in the street a la Gaston Modot in Bunuel/Dali's L'Age d'Or (The Golden Age), he goes on to kidnap a fashion model (Mendes) and outfit her in makeshift Muslim dress. When she adjusts it later to suggest robes of Michelangelo's Virgin Mary, Merde strips naked, revealing a raging erection, then lies with his head in her lap in a clear parody of the Pieta, a snappy reference to the blasphemy at the end of L'Age d'Or that caused that film to be banned in France for decades. Elsewhere in the film we see Kylie Minogue wearing a wig that duplicates Jean Seberg's hairdo in Godard's A Bout De Souffle (Breathless), and her character is named Jean. She sings, too, in a scene that could have come out of Les Parapluies De Cherbourg (The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg).
In his dying uncle identity, Oscar looks suspiciously like, and is photographed similarly to, Kier Dullea as he expires on the planet Jupiter at the end of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A late scenario, in which Oscar is married to a chimpanzee, echoes Oshima's Max, Mon Amour (Max, My Love). Most blatant of all is the concluding scene, in which Scob dons a mask identical to the one she had worn more than 50 years earlier in Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without A Face). And so on.
Arthouse film lovers will have a good time playing this game with Carax, but the real charm of Holy Motors is in its ability to keep springing surprises. As M Oscar moves from appointment to appointment, the movie switches genres and styles in a way that keeps you happily off balance, with little time to contemplate the director's constant winks and nudges. Levant, a veteran of earlier Carax films (he already played the M Merde character in Carax's segment of the movie, Tokyo!) is fully in tune with the film's chameleon spirit, and his transformations from appointment to appointment are astonishing. Edith Scob remains the enigmatic presence that she has been in so many films since the 1958 Franju horror movie Carax evokes with the mask. All in all, a comedy original enough to have a category all to itself.
About the author
- Writer: Plalai Faifa