Perhaps the most challenging film to watch throughout the whole semester, Holy Motors is the epitome of what art cinema is. With a runtime almost spanning for two hours, Holy Motors is no easy watch most especially to those with little to no background in the more eccentric side of European film. A fair warning that should be given to anyone who is interested in watching the film—take everything you know about movies and throw it out of the window. Holy Motors is undeniably a challenging watch but is rewarding in its own way, distant from how one derives it in most films.
The film starts off with Oscar, who can be said to be our main protagonist, journeying from his home towards his workplace. Given his appearance being a suit and tie, one would assume that he is headed towards the city’s business district. What comes as the biggest surprise is that he actually works as an actor for hire of sorts. The limousine he rides is filled with a plethora of items needed for a costume, ranging from wigs and to silicone face skins. Throughout the entire film, what the audience is given is a complete disclosure of the work which “Oscar” (given that we can now only assume that to be his name) does. From the most innocent, such as acting as an impoverished old woman who begs on a bridge, to the most bizzare, acting as a deranged homeless man who bites off the fingers of a woman. There is no discussion of any sort to elaborate as to who Oscar truly is and why he does this nature of work. The transitions of the film move from one role to another, leaving the audience to ascertain for themselves who Oscar is and what are his motivations for doing such work.
The folly, perhaps, when faced with a film as eccentric as Holy Motors is to analyze it in a similar way one does with Hollywood films. I think that behind the oddity that one feels while watching the film, it also provides an opportunity to discuss the role of acting. Quite meta given that a film with actors is discussing how acting can be but it deserves the merit of being highlighted. As it stands, Oscar is seen from beginning to end working various roles with little to no regard beyond his basic needs, such as for food and rest. This life can be said to be analogous to what a handful of actors face. Once they hit it big, they become primed to be automatically prepared to take on the next role in order to further the career high they are enjoying. Holy Motors can be seen as a critique as to how varied the roles an individual can have on a daily basis. Neglecting to see that behind all these roles is the core of our humanity, it drives one to lose their identity making everyday reality seem like a chore.
As the film wraps up, it amps up the oddity even further as we see that Oscar is left behind to become a part of a family of monkeys. However, the message has already been sent across. There is a certain degree of artistry and vindication when it comes to entering and exiting multiple performative roles, may it be on the scale of daily life or one similar to Oscar’s.