The first scene of Holy Motors tells the audience two things: this is about the art of film, and this is what you won’t expect it to be. Carax, the movie’s director, is seen opening the door into what seems to be a theatre. Everyone’s eyes are mesmerized onto what is on screen which is out of frame. Shots of the early works of scientist and early Chrono photographer Étienne-Jules Marey, and this gives us a look into what this narrative is about. Yet, as one tries to wrap their head around what the film means, it loses its meaning altogether.
We are introduced to a middle-aged man named Mr. Oscar, who is driven around in a limousine and has several “appointments” or acts. He dresses up and delves himself into completely different scenarios, giving the audience different reactions as well. From an old beggar, to a motion capture actor, to a red-haired madman, the possibilities of Lavant and his skills are virtually endless. But behind the scenes, after every act, he seems to be quite lonely and hopeless in the confines of his limousine. He tells of the man from the agency that what made him carry on is the beauty of the act, but he misses the cameras. This scene could symbolize that no matter how many times actors fall in love with their role and the art, a part of them seems missing when it comes to feeling fulfilled with their job. Perhaps it is because of the different masks that actors have to put on when they portray their roles, and how sometimes method acting can take a toll on one’s sanity.
Yet, what makes this film so melancholically beautiful is that it appreciates, and at the same time critiques, what filmmaking is. There are no connections whatsoever with all the different appointments, yet the viewers are glued to the screen and are invested to know what happens next. Perhaps the reason for this is that Carax does not want the audience to overthink or follow a linear narrative. Movies are made to entertain, and maybe even to reflect life and one’s deeper insights towards it. Through the different characters Oscar portrays, the different interactions he has with other people and actors, makes us think whether we are ever truly genuine with ourselves and others. The different scenes, although quite absurd, are not so far from what we experience in life. Love, chaos, beauty, life, death, are all universal themes that we experience and the art of film is what connects them together.
All in all, Carax does a wonderful job in paying an homage to cinema through Holy Motors. We get to appreciate the art form as it is without putting too much thought into it, because the meaning of things is subjective to each and every person. But at the same time, the overall somber mood that the film emanates makes us realize that film is dying. When Oscar says that “[The cameras] used to be heavier than us. Then they became smaller than our heads. Now you can’t see them at all,” it makes us reflect on what we consider entertainment and real film. As things such as reality television and online influencers start to emerge, we forget to appreciate film for what it is and all the effort that is put into making one. And for that, Holy Motors should be praised in all its confusing and surprise-filled glory.