Holy Motors (2012) is a strange film. It is perhaps the strangest film that we have watched in class. Devoid of a comprehensible plot that one can hold on to, it presents a day in the life of (what I can only infer) an actor and the various “appointments” he undergoes. The viewing experience was kind of boring at times and became increasingly confusing, but what could not be denied is the engrossment with the performances. Denis Lavant’s acting was the driving force of the entire movie, and it propels the film into excellence.
The movie almost completely foregoes of any cohesive narrative; instead, it appears as a series of episodes that constitute a day in the protagonist’s life. At first I was attempting to find some logic behind the events that were being shown. But after a few episodes, I sort of had a sense of what the film was trying to highlight–the acting–and focused my attention to the performances being shown instead. This purposeful lack of narrative transitivity in order to shift the emphasis to other elements of the film is characteristic of counter-cinema. Usually, viewers are invested in seeing how the plot plays out; in Holy Motors Carax challenges the audience by doing away with an understandable plot and urges them to pay attention to the acting instead.
Holy Motors brings to fore the versatility of the actor–how much dedication and effort goes into the fulfillment of a role. We see Monsieur Oscar, like a chameleon, transform physically into these bizarre personalities, and fully inhabit them. The range of the actor was on full display in the movie as Denis Lavant transforms from a CGI stuntman alien sex being into a man who kills his doppelganger, and then ends up getting killed by the doppelganger. These odd scenarios seem to refuse all comprehension in order to put the spotlight on the performances of the actors.
However, I did notice a departure from this in one of the appointments where Monsieur Oscar assumed the role of an elderly man with his niece. After their heart-wrenching exchange about something I don’t really know anything about (pointing to the excellence of the actors’ performance), Oscar addresses his co-star as himself and asks her about her remaining appointments. It was at this very late point in the film that I found out something about what was going on in the film plot-wise. My hypothesis was proven right by the final scene: Monsieur Oscar was one of many actors under some company/entity called Holy Motors driven around by chauffeurs in white limousines to get to their various acting “appointments”.
With his unconventional approach to film making, Leos Carax creates a work of art in Holy Motors that shatters the lens with which we watch movies. Acting as a medium that bridges the real from the fabricated is the most important cog in the machine that is film, but at times it is deemed secondary to other elements such as the plot or the characters. What Holy Motors achieves is the glorification of acting, the shedding of all traces of reality and other worlds that have been previously experienced, and succumbing fully to this art of transformation, one role at a time.