Holy Motors is a film, to put it simply, not easily digestible.
However it can be once you see it as it is – as if from a child’s perspective seeing it for the first time. The film if taken in in with our scrutinization over every singular aspect renders it almost utterly incomprehensible. However, it is also in this taking apart that we finally realise what the film is about – not a mere bundle of random clips of ostentatious scenarios put together, but a film about performance, acting, and cinema itself.
Towards the end of the film, we see the main character, Oscar, speaking to his presumed boss (“What keeps you going?” “The beauty of the act”.) One of the things that make a film a film, and that which drives the plot forward, are the characters who bring the story to life and are essentially the moving force behind the continued progression of the plot. In Holy Motors, we see a multiplicity of fragmented plots and the film’s clever transitions between them, as well as its integration of multiple genres and types of movies – drama, a musical, a CGI-edited film.While all of the plots seem to have rather mainstream narratives – even the scene with Eva Mendes, which may be said to be indicative (if we look closely) of a more explicit rendering of the otherwise not uncommon Beauty and the Beast movie theme. Performance is an extremely rich area of cinematic expression (Spiedel, 2016). More often than not, actors portray their character intentions on screen actors’ through carious aspects and mannerism they intergrate within their performances. According to Speidel, performances and our decoding of them are shaped by our everyday shared understanding of human body language, which alerts us to the possibility that (ex.) the act of chewing a lip, for example, may signify anxiety.The main actor Denis Lavant may then be said to have succeeded immensely in his portrayal not just of one, but nine drastically different roles, some of which are not even human. The entire film was animated by acting – both of the entire cast and Lavant. The only thread of continuity was the Holy Motor – otherwise, the film is a fragmented set of various scenes, ranging from the normal (the father-daughter conversation, the bedside table scene) to the obscure (the CGI simulated sex scene) and the absurd (Chimpanzee scene). The entire film, in that sense and from the perspective of the viewer, may simply be said to be a testament to the actor’s versatility and raw talent.
However, despite this, without a consistent narrative, a setting/situation to hold onto, without actions having consequences, how do we arrive at the character’s purpose? We know he’s an actor, and we come to expect these performances, and yet the expectation of seeing the “real life” underneath is sometimes teased but never really met. Hence we proceeded to an analysis of his performance itself, without still knowing the meaning of the film nor the intent behind these performances. In the realisation of the reality that there are an infinity of different interpretations of the film. And since it’s quite impossible to come to one, we realise:
The main question Leo Carax’s film begs its viewers, more important than what it means, or even more important than how we comprehend it, Is it possible to enjoy a film that lacks such a crucial filmic element – narrativity? Is it possible to enjoy a film that doesn’t allow you to orient yourself in it?is is it possible to enjoy a film you cannot understand? The answer is YES. Because of the unspoken element of film – experience, Specifically, the kind of film experience Holy Motors brings us.
While the film happens in a homogenous world (single diegesis, from day in to day out) it takes you to another world. Every film creates its own cosmos, its own universe, and Holy Motors creates many. The Experience of Watching the Film which constantly interrupts itself and doesn’t create a seamless experience renders it spontaneous and disorienting. The line between fact or fiction is so blurred until we don’t know what the hell is happening. And as soon as we think we know what’s happening, cars start talking.
While it may be the complexity and pure chaos of a confusing plot that initially reels our attention and makes us keep watching, continued by the captivating performances of the actors, the experience of the film draws us in and make us stay.
It’s a movie about the experience.
And if we are not meant to experience these movies, we can’t make works of art. And you can choose to leave the film artless, or you can appreciate the individual broken pieces – every singular element, every singular performance.
It’s not a film of glorious visuals, of heartwrenching morality, it’s a film of performance, it’s a film not just to be watched but to be experienced, that thus constitutes “The Beauty of the Act” – no matter how fleeting it may be.
Holy Motors has won and been nominated for dozens of prestigious awards. We love what we can’t understand. Let’s not ruin it by trying to.