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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
18
Cast
Leos Carax
Eva Mendes
Kylie Minogue
Denis Lavant
Edith Scob
Michel Piccoli.
Directors
Leos Carax.
Screenwriters
Running Time
115 minutes

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Holy Motors
The craziest film of this year. Or any year


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Plot
Monsieur Oscar (Lavant) is picked up from his home by a stretch limo. The day-in-the-life tale that unfolds, as he travels around Paris adopting a different role in each place he visits, redefines the word ‘peculiar’.


Review
Holy Motors
There is nothing about Holy Motors that isn’t weird. It’s directed by unorthodox Frenchman Leos Carax — an anagram of the first two words of his real name, Alex Oscar Dupont — who claims that he considered Lon Chaney and Charlie Chaplin for the lead role. It’s a freewheeling, kaleidoscopic tale that takes in talking cars, gloopy alien CG sex and a hobo with a hard-on. Perhaps strangest of all, it’s a film featuring Kylie Minogue that’s a contender for the best of the year.

Thirteen whole years have passed since Carax’s last odd opus, Pola X, which at one point featured a full orchestra playing industrial rock in a warehouse. Unsurprisingly, he’s had a bit of trouble getting financing for his projects, including an English-language film he hoped to shoot in London. Frustrated, Carax began taking long walks around Paris, trying to dream up a low-budget vehicle for his muse, Denis Lavant. Noticing an abundance of stretch limousines and one particular old gypsy woman he kept passing on a bridge, he slowly devised Holy Motors: a portmanteau tale in which a man spends a long day being shuttled around a city, playing different roles for a camera crew which may or may not be there.

The story is willfully bizarre. As such, there’s plenty of potential for it to turn into two hours of swampy symbolism that only people in berets who eat muesli in cinemas would appreciate. Instead, there’s a joyously cheeky spirit on display that keeps it moving like a thriller. The director himself turns up at the start, as himself, to welcome the audience to the picture. Then we’re launched into Monsieur Oscar’s bizarre automotive odyssey (after Cosmopolis, this is the second film of 2012 in which the on-edge protagonist rides around town in a limo). A Chinese box of a narrative, we’re invited to guess whether the character is edging closer or further away from his true identity with each new ‘appointment’. Where does the fiction end and the man begin? Carax delights in yanking the film’s tone in strange directions: a moving deathbed scene ends with a comedy punchline, while an absurd episode involving the hero playing a crazed tramp builds to a haunting lullaby, sung by Eva Mendes.

The supporting cast — Mendes, in a supermodel role written for Kate Moss; Edith Scob as elegant limo-driver Céline; Michel Piccoli as a mysterious man with a birthmark — are all strong. But it’s essentially a one-man show, and Lavant is astonishing. Convincing whether he’s playing an elderly crone, an accordionist blasting out a catchy cover version of R. L. Burnside’s Let My Baby Ride, or a latex-clad mo-cap artist in a studio sequence that plays out like an Andy Serkis acid trip, it’s the kind of full-throttle, physical performance that nets Oscars — if the film it’s in wasn’t the type to give Oscar-voters heart attacks.

Finally, there’s the inevitable question: what does it all mean? There’s no shortage of scope for theories. Rich with references to films including King Vidor’s The Crowd, Chaplin’s Modern Times and Jean Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bête, it could be a statement on the movie industry and the lunacy of the acting profession. It might be a philosophical take on life and the different roles we all have to play. It may even be about man’s uneasy, shifting relationship with technology. Ultimately, though, when you’ve got Kylie as an air stewardess, belting out a song by The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon in an empty department store, does meaning even matter?


Verdict
Splashing around in the same mad puddle as Lynch but a good deal funnier, this tale of a man with many faces is an exhilarating, audacious, lunatic rocket-ride. Hop on board.


Reviewed by Nick de Semlyen

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Holy Motors
Empire Star Rating

I have no idea what it was about...

...but it sure was entertaining. Love it or hate it, you will be surprised at every turn. Definitely check it out if you want to be utterly confused! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by film ninja at 00:13, 03 May 2013 | Report This Post


Pretentiousness, why name is Holy motors

how i finished is a mircle ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 15:14, 27 February 2013 | Report This Post


What a disappointment.

I was really looking forward to this but it utterly failed to deliver. This movie has a playful, whimsical surface but we're quickly shown under the hood and sadly their isn't really anything underneath to engage with except the same very tired and overdone questions about beauty, fame, facade, cinema, genre and reality that were tackled with more energy by other filmmakers as much as 50 years ago. The meta surface exposes a director too in love with his thin, short-film concept to see that it i... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Nicky C at 12:00, 18 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Fascinating

This hasn't entirely convinced me to give up on conventional narrative movies, but I quite liked this and it has stuck in my head for days now. Sure, it's bizarre and surreal and as mad as a box of frogs, but it's never boring and is often quite funny as it pin-balls crazily from one set-piece to another. After a few days reflection, I do think this is quite an inspired piece of work, with some sort of mad genius at work, even though I couldn't really blame anyone for dismissing it as a ridicul... More

Posted by MOTH at 19:57, 10 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Fascinating

A man wakes up one morning, locates and opens a secret door in his apartment. Walking through it, he wanders into a packed movie house where a young child and a giant dog wander up and down the aisles. Meanwhile Oscar travels through Paris in a white limousine driven by his friend Celine. His job involves stopping for various ‘appointments’, where he has to become an entirely different character complete with makeup, mannerisms and speech. Throughout the course of the day he becomes a beggar wo... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 21:43, 30 January 2013 | Report This Post


Fascinating

Going into this I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd read that it was 'pretentious', 'bizarre', and that you either loved it or hated it, well...I loved it. I only knew that the film consisted of a man traveling around a city in a limo, using different disguises to play various roles around the city. I didn't know what the themes were supposed be, or what the messages were supposed tell us because I'd heard it was best to go in without knowing and to make up my own mind. For the first quarter... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Coyleone at 13:58, 21 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Holy Motors

I got the same feeling after seeing this film as I did after watching Tree of life, and indeed after reading Slaughterhouse Five, one of confusion, frustration, and an indefinable feeling that just keeps nagging at me. With Tree of Life I went to see it again and fell in love with it having let my brain process it all the first time, with Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut became pretty much my favourite author, and I hope that I have a similar reaction to Holy Motors. After the first viewing I... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moontheloon at 23:02, 27 October 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Holy Motors

truly speaking i couldn't understood the film.............. not my type actully... ... More

Posted by apnavarun at 02:21, 19 October 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Holy Motors

“Weird” is a word that’s often overused to describe certain films, whether it is travelling through one’s memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or even the strange appearance of robotic testicles in Michael Bay’s Transformers films. In the case of French director Leos Carax’s first film since his 1999 drama Pola X, Holy Motors is more in the lines of David Lynch, whose work defines the meaning of “weird”. The plot, if you could call it that, delves into a day in the life of Mon... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 18:12, 11 October 2012 | Report This Post


Self indulgent and hollow

This film has been getting fantastic reviews left right and centre. Unfortunately it left me totally cold- it's introverted, there's no real character interaction and no life to it. I love Lynch's work, and this was not even close. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dunc2001 at 23:51, 09 October 2012 | Report This Post


Beautifully shot but self indulgent and pretentious. It is as if the director is having a party while the audience is locked out. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by xlostxjoeyx at 10:21, 09 October 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Holy Motors

I really liked it. Essentially gs of Desirenstead of angels we seem to be doing the dramatic muse here. Overall, Carax may be asking questions about why we need drama in our lives, do we in actual fact need it (a need implied by the almost divine service Denis Lavant's consummate performer supplies through appointment). And do we want spectacle in a broad, entertainment sense (action movie, crime movie, Grimm fairy tale, musical and even porno) or in the more verite dramas of Kieslowski f... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by demoncleaner at 21:34, 01 October 2012 | Report This Post


Holy Motors

Before last week, when I was flicking through a copy of Sight and Sound never heard of Leos Carax. His last film had been out ten years or so ago. Back then I was busy about to become a new father and, furthermore, my international film viewing was woefully inadequate. Since he is apparently not spoken of much, it is perhaps unsurprising I had never heard of him. However, since the press for this film has been almost uniformly positive, praising its beauty while scratching heads at its meaning,... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by homersimpson_esq at 20:09, 30 September 2012 | Report This Post


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