Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)

The ultimate movie-movie, starring Denis Lavant 11 times.

Prologue in a movie theater where he is locked in a room with a secret-panel door to which his metal finger is the key.

“Oscar” leaves a giant house as a banker, gets into limo driven by the great Edith Scob (looking much more lively than she did in Summer Hours – I know it was acting and makeup, but I was concerned), is told he has nine appointments today and starts getting into makeup.

1. He plays a hunched homeless woman begging for change, seeing mostly pavement and shoes.

2. Motion-capture room inside a factory – he is covered in tracking markers like the kind Andy Serkis is always wearing. First he enacts an acrobatic fight scene, then runs on a treadmill firing a machine gun, then is joined by a red-rubber-suited woman for a mutant sex scene.

3. “Merde,” he mutters as he glances at the dossier. And so he is Merde, striding through the cemetery eating flowers until he comes across a photo shoot. He bites a camera assistant’s fingers off then abducts model Eva Mendes (of Bad Lieutenant 2), takes her to the sewer, reconfigures her clothes and lays in her lap naked. Best joke of the movie: the headstones all advertise the deceased’s websites.

4. Beleaguered father picks up daughter Angele from a party where she was too shy to dance and mingle. He takes it badly because she lied and said she had a great time.

5. Musical intermission with accordions, time to reflect on the movie. At some point between scenes Michel Piccoli visits the limo to discuss Oscar’s work. Cameras are mentioned – the fact that they used to be these big things but are now tiny and hidden everywhere. So Oscar is a sort of character film-actor of the future. The first two parts he played couldn’t be more different (old and feeble vs. acrobatic, grim realism vs. stark techno-future), so we’re seeing a range of Oscar’s performance types before the second half gets more personal.

6. A bald guy with facial scars knifes another guy to death in a warehouse, makes that guy up to look like himself, then gets knifed by the dying man, ending in a hilarious visual joke, two Oscars dying side-by-side on the ground. As he staggers back to the limo, helped by Edith, we wonder – which one was Oscar, and were either of the stabbings real?

7. He’s a dying man in bed, having a final conversation with sad niece Lea. Further ruptures in the structure: when the old man is “rambling incoherently” he recites lines from previous episodes, and after he “dies” we watch him get back up and leave, chatting briefly with the actress playing his niece on the way out.

7.5?: He quickly makes Edith stop the limo, throws on a red barbed-wire stocking cap and shoots himself-as-the-banker dining along the sidewalk, then gets shot to death. Edith runs over, apologizes to everyone saying it’s a mistaken identity and collects him (stocking-cap, not banker).

8?: During a limo-driver right-of-way argument he wanders off, seeing a girl he knows (Kylie Minogue). They’re in the same line of work and had major history together – she sings a song to fill us in. He seems to be himself (Oscar) here, and she’s preparing for a role where she’s suicidal, waiting for another man. On his way back to the limo, Oscar runs screaming over her dead body, having performed her scene and jumped to the pavement. If she’s as “dead” as he becomes in his scenes then she’ll be fine in a few seconds – and if this wasn’t a performance but the “real” Oscar then why can’t he see her anymore, and why the extreme reaction to her death?

9. Anyway, Oscar ends up at a house full of chimps, whom he kisses goodnight. Edith parks the limo, puts on her Eyes Without a Face mask and walks off. Then the limos converse, tail lights flashing as they speak.

Need to watch this again – not because I may have missed a scene or listed them out of order, but because the movie (and Lavant) is completely amazing [edit: watched again; Katy didn’t like it]. From skimming the critics’ reports I was prepared for something extremely crazy and nonsensical, but this made plenty of sense, and is a completely unique piece of meta-cinema. Caroline Champetier, cinematographer of this and Merde, also shot Of Gods and Men, Rivette’s Gang of Four and Class Relations.

D. Lim: “… as close as Carax has come to an artistic manifesto: a film about life as cinema and cinema as life.”