Saturday, January 12, 2013

Three months later Steve sees Holy Motors

Three months on I finally saw Holy Motors. I did not catch the press screening at the New York Film festival, opting instead to see it with Mondocurry. Sadly familial commitments prevented me from seeing it at the public screening and despite my best efforts I never made it until just after New Year. Normally I would have not gone out of my way and instead just waited for DVD but all of the talk concerning the film on year end lists had me curious, as had Mondo’s intriguing and slightly cryptic take on the film.

For those that don’t know the film is a day in the life of Mr Oscar. He’s a chameleon like character who drives around Paris in a white limo pausing now and again to get out in heavy disguise and interact with people. At first the interactions seem to be random, but as time goes on they become more and more complicated and less random as if he is taking part in some one’s life. None of the vignettes are related, though characters from the directors other films appear and there are hints that some of the people are like Oscar, namely they are actors. The film takes us from the beginning of the day when Oscar says good bye to his family to when he returns home-to a completely different family.

Nothing is explained and there is a musical intermission (a highlight of this film year for me).

What does it all mean?

Your guess is as good as mine. To be honest I’m of the opinion that Holy Motors will mean and be whatever it is that you want it to mean. There is enough material here that anything interpretation is possible since there is pretty much enough hooks that you could hang any idea on them. In a weird way you can consider this almost a follow up to Kubrick’s 2001 a film that allows almost any interpretation.

Atheists or agnostics will probably take it to mean something relating to film or the randomness of existence. Deists or believers of one faith or another will assume it’s about the divine with the title, the fact that characters don’t stay dead and the mythic/ seeming angelic nature of some characters and cars playing into that mindset.

Somewhere around the brilliant musical interlude I became convinced that the film is some sort of cinematic jest. To me it’s almost as if director Leos Carax had these random scenes floating around he just decided to film them with the linking device of Oscar racing from place to place. Each scene plays as a kind of mini movie that we stumble into randomly, and on some level I think that’s what the scenes are- randomly assembled bits strung together in a kind of order.

I know the director has gone on record talking about what he feels the film is about or at least giving hints (Read Mondocurry’s report on the NYFF Q&A here) but while that maybe what he feels, I find that what he thinks the film is, especially a film as open to interpretation as this, kind of has to be discounted.

I can hear you all screaming sacrilege! I mean I'm discounting what the directors says , but sometimes you have to throw out what the director, or official spokesman says.

I’m fond of ranting, films have to stand on their own. Films MUST operate on their own, free of explanations. You can’t make a film that requires a cheat sheet to be understood. Several films recently (Corpo Celeste for example) required you read the notes to understand what the film is. You can’t do that. You can’t expect your audience to have access to your notes. Things must stand up for themselves. The cemetery sequence where Oscar takes on the character from Tokyo!, one of earlier films works on it’s own terms and you don’t need to know that where the character comes from, or that he marches through the cemetery to the Godzilla theme. Knowing it only allows you to get the thrown out reference, but it isn't required for understanding of the sequence.

But how is the film?

It’s good. It’s interesting. I like it but I don’t love it.

For my money it’s as I said, a series of random, brilliantly (for the most part) executed scenes that don’t hang together. It’s a grand pastiche made of pieces that have kind of been sewn together but not completely. Its’ like looking at a quilt where you see the whole, but you also see the pieces it was made from. While it will keep you warm, you are still aware of the pieces and the patchwork nature of it all- Holy Motors will entertain and perhaps enlighten you, but you still see how it was assembled.

I would not, as a whole consider it one of the best of this or any other year.

Of course that’s my opinion and while I would normally be more than willing to argue pro or con about the quality or meaning of a film I think in this case it’s pointless, at least as far as making an argument to change someone’s opinion. This is one of those rare films that is impossible to argue as being good or bad on any level but a personal one. One can’t argue the point any more than one can argue your world view is wrong since it’s very clear that how one takes Holy Motors is going to be based on what we bring to it and experienced before we go in. Your view is not mine and mine is not yours. Reactions will be different.

In a weird way I think the best explanation of the film I’ve seen comes from Mondocurry who calls the film an art film in the truest sense of the word. It’s a work that, like any great work of art, is reflective ….

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