Holy Motors Review

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Easily the most interesting movie of the year, Holy Motors is a film begging for interpretation.  While the film seems to be a commentary of some sort on the nature of acting, or the different roles we portray throughout our lives, this movie is so rich with completely baffling and unexpected material that a case could be made for any myriad of interpretations.  Throughout the film I found myself grasping for some kind of concrete theme, but director Leos Carax refuses to make things that easy.

The film does not have a real plot, in the traditional sense.  It instead follows the daily activities of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), as he travels through Paris performing a series of increasingly bizarre and disjointed tasks as though they were monotonous and perfectly reasonable things for a rich man in a limousine to be doing. While never explicitly clear, Oscar is a contract actor of sorts, though his motivations are never explained as he navigates through the city taking on various, often ridiculous personae.  He is a murderer, a lunatic, a father, throwing himself completely into these roles how over psychotic they may be.

Though I will not pretend to have any of the answers on this film, it is clear that it is a film about identity, and by my estimation, social interaction. At the end of the film, Oscar is clearly exhausted by these tasks that he must perform every day, for seemingly little purpose.  My personal interpretation of the film is that it is a commentary on the ever changing state of our personalities told through hyperbole.  More specifically, Oscar’s jobs are representative of the various roles he is expected to perform in real life, as at one time or another; we are all doing some amount of acting ourselves in our daily lives.  Though I acknowledge the film has much more to offer than just this interpretation, having only seen the movie once, I do not feel comfortable making wild guesses at what appears on the surface to be an exercise in complete insanity.

While Holy Motors is in many ways a creative masterpiece, it was an intensely frustrating movie going experience.  This movie challenges the viewer to analyze the film at breakneck pace, yet it is unapologetically complex, making it next to impossible to synthesize all the vignettes within the film into anything that resembles a definite interpretation. Though this movie did not make my top ten list of 2012, it is a film that I would highly recommend as I can guarantee there is very little else like it.

4.5 out of 5

Gabriel’s Top 10 Movies of 2012

10. End of Watch

This was hands down the best buddy cop movie of the year. That being said it was also one of the only buddy cop movies of the year, but don’t let that diminish it’s accomplishments. Sure, it has some flaws, like the villain’s lacking performances, but that doesn’t stop this from being an all around hilarious, heart breaking, and magnetic film. It was just a blast to watch, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves film.

9. Lincoln

This film really surpassed all my expectations. Sure, I had heard that Daniel Day Louis was spectacular in the title role, but that didn’t stop me from prematurely judging this as the typical Spielbergian sentimental dreck. Luckily, the truly fascinating nature of the civil war era and Lincoln himself were there to help the film transcend the typical. Also, [insert obligatory Daniel Day Louis was amazing comment].

8. I Wish

Hirokazu Koreeda must be the single most underrated Japanese filmmaker of all time. Ever since his first masterpiece, Maborosi, in 1995, he’s been putting out some of the most interesting work in film, period. His most recent movie, I Wish, ranks among his best work, giving us a naturalistic look at two brothers struggle to stay together after their parents’ divorce. Koreeda was able to marvelously sums up many of the wonders of childhood and in a manner that is worthy of the many Japanese masters before him.

7. Flight

This and End of Watch where hands down my biggest surprises of 2012. Going in I expected an ok film that would probably just end up turning into more of the standard Robert Zemekes fair. I’m happy to say I was quite wrong. It turned out to be a rather stirring look at the detrimental effects of alcoholism with the added bonus of probably one of the greatest, most chilling plain crashes in all of cinema. Not to mention the incredible and quite unique performance from Denzel Washington.

6. The Cabin in the Woods

There are few films I can say just fill me with absolute joy. They reduce me to a state of unadulterated glee from which nothing can take me. Cabin in the Woods is one of these such films. It may at first seem like a generic slasher flick, but in reality, it’s one of the most imaginative, creative, and brilliant horror film I’ve seen in years. There’s little more I can say other than that I left the theater with a smile plastered to my face and in utter awe.

5. Holy Motors

This movie really through me for a loop. It’s really quite different from anything I’ve ever seen before. Unlike a conventional film narrative, it’s a more akin to a journey through life and cinema. The film admittedly presents the audience with a real challenge, but amazingly it’s always fascinating to watch, primarily for the enlightening central performance by Denis Lavant. Just in the course of this 115 minute film he takes us so many different places, while still remaining the center that holds this film together.

4. Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar is a film about death and the ways we cope with it. It shows us a fourth grade class dealing with the cryptic suicide of their homeroom teacher, and Bachir Lazhar, who takes it upon himself to replace that said teacher. At first glance this may seem like the typical teacher-saves-troubled-kids film, but it’s much more than that. There is an irrefutable emotional reality here that gives it a profundity found in very few films, and I just couldn’t help but be drawn into this touching and beautiful portrait of grief.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

With Wes Anderson’s most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom, he creates the sort of storybook tale we would read before bedtime as youths. He takes that whimsical and colorful time in our lives and puts it on the screen to a magnificent effect. Sure, some people might be a bit turned of by his idiosyncratic style, but I think he uses it to perfect effect here to create something I can’t wait to show to my kids someday.

PS. Check out my review here: https://simplyfilm.org/2012/07/14/moonrise-kingdom-review/

2. Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino will always have a very special place in my heart. He was in a lot of ways the first director I really got to know. In my film nerd infancy, many years ago, the first thing I ever did was marathon through Tarantino entire filmography. It was from that moment that I always knew I would love movies. He was just a master. You could see it in every frame. He just draws you into his spell of movie magic and taking you along on a euphoric ride through cinema. Sure, he’s a bit overindulgent and I don’t think he’s usually very ambitious thematically,  but he just fills me to the brim with everything I love about film, and Django is just another fantastic example of that.

1. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

I will not deny the fact that this is a difficult film. At a goliath two and a half hours, it’s hard to imagine how this movie could be worth it. But, I assure you that this will be hands down the greatest experience you will have all year. Under the guise of a conventional police procedural this is actually a remarkable exploration of truth and perception in the face of a morally gray world. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the director, gives us a film that, on a purely visual level, may even surpass Prometheus. Sure it’s challenging, it’s slow, it’s long, it’s obtuse, but I do not doubt for a moment that the reward is worth the challenge. So if you feel up to it, you won’t be disappointed, and if you don’t, well, you’re missing something truly amazing.

Honorable Mentions

Zero Dark Thirty, Elena, The Dark Knight Rises, Safety Not Guaranteed, Silver Linings Playbook, This Is Not a Film, Oslo, August 31st, The Kid with a Bike, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Bernie, Looper, Prometheus, Borne Legacy, Sleepwalk With Me, Raid: The Redemption, The Impostor, 21 Jump Street, and Chronicle.