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Holy Motors

Year: 2012
Production Co: Pierre Grise Productions
Director: Leos Carax
Writer: Leos Carax
Cast: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva mendes, Kylie Minogue, Leos Carax

Partly theatre of the absurd, partly just absurd. But it all means something, and that's one of the many questions the movie doesn't answer.

See it when you're in a reflective, high-minded cineaste mood, not sitting in an IMAX seat with a tub of popcorn at the end of a big week. It's a movie to be appreciated and at times even endured, not necessarily enjoyed.

It depicts Oscar (Denis Valant), a man who leaves work one morning from a pleasant house full of loving children, climbing into a chauffer driven limousine discussing the appointments of the day with his driver, the stately Céline (Scob).

Oscar appears to be a high-flying businessman, but when they arrive at the first appointment, the back of the limousine has been revealed to be a dressing room full of costumes and make-up apparatus. The appointment is Oscar standing on the side of the road, posing as an elderly woman begging for money.

From there he goes to a motion capture stage to fight and make love to a woman, both of them depicted as alien beings, plays a mad, shoeless leprechaun-like character who steals a model (Mendes) from a photo shoot and takes her back to a cave to dress her like a Bedouin woman, plays a father who's unspeakably cruel to his teenage daughter after picking her up from a party and reconnects with a former lover (Minogue) for a duet on top of an abandoned hotel.

There are about seven more episodes like them, all seemingly unrelated from the rest, some of them as banal as others are freaky. And every time, he climbs back in the limo and prepares his costume and make-up on the way to the next appointment – even one where he murders a character he played in an earlier sequence and another where a man who looks just like him kills him in turn.

I had no idea whatsoever what it was all about, but to the best of my ability I think it's a comment on the lot of the successful actor, continually shuttled from one project to the next and having to assume ever more otherworldly personas surrounded by very different collaborators, performance technologies and environments.

There's also an overarching meta narrative with a heaven/afterlife theme (one that I saw, anyway). The limo drivers – we meet another one, apparently signifying Oscar is just one of many – can be seen as angels ferrying souls if you like, although all I have to base that theory on is the fact that at the end of the workday they go back to the huge parking garage that gives the movie its title.

But why the cars sit around for another minute or so talking to each other in hushed tones like students in a dorm room – lights flickering along with their voices – is just one of the many mysteries. If you watched Holy Motors ten times you might have ten theories about every aspect.

It's peppered with framing devices, explanatory add-ons (which explain little on first viewing), motifs, talismans, references and homages that you'd need Tarantino's knowledge of film history to absorb. It's a full movie that never really stops moving and even as it exasperates and frustrates you, if you're in the right frame of mind it shouldn't bore you.

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