“And if there’s no more beholder?”: Holy Motors (2012)

dir. Leos Carax

Holy Motors is a movie that made me realize how much of cinema there really is that I haven’t seen. I consider myself a bit of a cinephile, albeit not having seen all of the ‘essentials’, on the basis that I watch more movies than the casual viewer. I’d like to think that I’ve seen some of the best that the industry has to offer, but Holy Motors has somehow destroyed that way of thinking. I knew even back then that there’s still so much that I have to learn when it comes to movies (that’s why I’m in this class in the first place), but now it feels like I have to go back to the very start.

The movie opens with a surreal dreamlike sequence. The director, starring in his own movie just for this one scene and making it somewhat meta, uses his fingers as a key and opens a passageway that leads to a movie theatre. He stumbles slowly inside and sees a black and white film projected onscreen. throughout the ongoing action and the loud sounds coming from the projector, a shot of the audience reveals that they have their eyes closed. We then move forward with the actual story.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear goal in terms of Holy Motors’ narrative. We have Monsieur Oscar, played by Denis Lavant, who bounces from one appointment to another in order to fulfill several roles in short periods of time. It’s most definitely an acting exercise for the lead actor.

We don’t know who these performances are for because as far as we know, he just does them. Seemingly, he starts off that day as a rich man playing the role of monsters. However as the movie ends and he goes home to a household comprised of monkeys, we wonder whether he has any identity at all.

“It’s you?”

“I think so.”

I do agree with the sentiment that there is a performative element even in being ourselves. This movie, for me, talks about how we perform in different relationships. There is the tendency to project a different version of yourself to every person you meet, even if you don’t notice it. After all, we’re all just simply playing a role in other people’s lives. But is it possible to become a slave to these interactions? To move from one relationship to the next, one identity to another, to the point that we don’t fully understand who we actually are?

This movie has no answers. Only talking limousines.

Even though the movie was apparently written within the span of two weeks, it conveys an interesting premise combined with amazing in universe details. For example, the URLS on the tombstones are subtle but definitely add to the world building. It was also really nice to hear Kylie Minogue’s music blasting in a party, only to find out later on that she has a musical part in the movie. Apart from having a song, the movie also has a musical intermission, dramatic performances, crazy action-esque sequences, horror elements, and a bunch of other weird stuff combined in a way that is coherent and not jarring at all, which truly makes the film a masterful genre-mix of a movie.

It’s a fascinating film to watch but I wouldn’t say that it’s for everyone. It can be seen as too arthouse, even going as far as bordering pretentious, which might make it hard for some people to fully enjoy it. I personally thought it was interesting but it’s not exactly something I would want to revisit. Just as Monsieur Oscar keeps moving forward with his appointments, I’d like to move on to the next movie and leave this one behind.

“The beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder.”

“And if there’s no more beholder?”

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