Posted by: ckckred | July 3, 2013

Holy Motors

2012's most bizarre film

2012’s most bizarre film, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is a modern masterpiece

Holy Motors may be the oddest film of the past half a decade or so.  It’s a bit like the collaboration between David Lynch and Terry Gilliam that never happened.  Combine Lynch’s eerie surrealism with Gilliam’s knack for visuals and satirical wit, double the weirdness, and the result would be somewhat close to Holy Motors.

Directed by Leos Carax, Holy Motors is a dreamy and bizarre examination of society in Paris and the world in general.  Carax’s intentions remained ambiguous to me at first, but after a while I grasped the meaning of Holy MotorsHoly Motors is the most decisive picture of 2012, probably even more so than The Master, but is also one of the year’s finest movies.  Carax’s picture is thoroughly fascinating and wildly engaging movie, a mind blowing masterpiece.

Holy Motors’ story is crafted in a nonconventional and episodic fashion.  The film begins with a man (played by Carax himself) opening a door in his room with his own finger and observing an audience watching a movie in a theater.  This opening scene is breaking the fourth wall, as Carax himself observes our own reaction to the movie.

Holy Motors then transitions to Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), who leaves his mansion and children to go to work.  He enters a limousine driven by Celine (Edith Scob), who takes him around Paris to do many appointments.  From there on out, Oscar puts on various convincing disguises (Carax shows the make-up process Oscar takes for each scene) and adopts numerous identities.  He runs around the city, frightening and harming (both physically and mentally) other people.

My description of Holy Motors might make it sound like a sort of juvenile prank show, but it expands far more than that.  Each episode comments not only on Oscar himself but others around him.  He first dresses up as an elderly woman begging for money on the street.  Then, he dons a motion capture suit and works a CGI figure.

The strangest episode occurs near the middle of Holy Motors.  Oscar dresses up as a flower-eating leprechaun who runs down a cemetery chomping bouquets to the theme of Godzilla.  This scene isn’t just very funny, but comments on society’s dislike of strangers, treating them as monsters (hence the “Godzilla” music).  People are disgusted and scared by Oscar’s creation.  Oscar then meets a American photographer, who is amazed by him.  But soon, the episode grows even more absurd as Oscar chews off two fingers of the photographer’s assistant and kidnaps a model played by Eva Mendes.  He takes her under the sewers, where he dresses her as a Muslim woman.  The woman than adheres to her costume and takes on her disguise.

That is easily Holy Motor’s finest scene, but the film never loses steam afterwards.  Oscar puts on more disguises and takes on more identities.  He becomes a father, a dying man, and even a murderer.  Carax slowly introduces the audience to the idea that our world and actions are predetermined by a secret company Oscar is part of.  Everything in our lives, be they odd or vile, results from people like Oscar, who pretend to be just average people.  Our fears, wishes, and desires all seem to result from this organization, which perhaps has spiritual meaning (the title “Holy Motors” certainly infers it).  What Oscar’s real identity is unknown, and later we even discover that his life at the mansion was just another ruse.

Whether Carax is mocking or celebrating human life was unclear to me.  Perhaps he is doing both.  But I recognized that he has made a golden achievement of cinema, a piece of art shimmering life itself.  I believe great movies are the ones that capture you and make you forget you’re watching a film.  Holy Motors did this for myself.  While Holy Motors most certainly isn’t for everyone, since it depends whether you can relate to the characters or not, it is a film I think everyone should watch to see their own reaction.  It is a magnificent epic.

Editor’s Note: If I updated my Top 10 list of 2012, this would have been in my top 5.



  1. Good review! I reeeeally didn’t care for this at all. There were a couple of cool and interesting parts (the accordion jam was awesome) but as a whole it really got on my nerves. 🙂

    • Thanks! Yeah, it’s a difficult movie to comprehend, but I really loved it. The accordion scene was pretty awesome.

  2. I’ve heard so many negative things about this so I’m surprised how much you liked it. And I usually agree with you so I’ll have to put it back on my list of films to watch.

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s available on Netflix Instant right now. It’s overly surreal, but I absolutely loved its tone.

  3. I will be making plans to check this out. Thanks.

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s on Netflix currently. While I highly recommend seeing it, be prepared, as it is a very bizarre movie.

  4. I did see it, but it wasn’t for me. Just to weird, although I have to agree that the leprechaun bit was really funny.

    • Thanks for the comment. Yeah, it’s certainly not a movie for everyone. The leprechaun scene was pretty hysterical.

  5. In your top 5? Great to hear, man. I’ve just recently got a hold of this but not found the time to watch it. It’s a real audience splitter bug as a fan surreal cinema, I think I’m really going to like this.

    • Thanks! It’s a great movie. I too am a big fan of surreal cinema and I absolutely loved this, though it’s very bizarre.

      • Good! Good! The more bizarre, the better 😉

      • Haha, it grows very weird. There’s even a musical number in the film.

  6. Fantastic review! I had absolutely NO idea where this movie was going when I saw it, and after seeing so many movies, that’s a wonderful feeling. Lavant should’ve gotten so much more recognition for his insane performance (or performances?).

    • Thanks! Yeah, it was a very unpredictable movie for sure. Lavant was really committed to his role that I was sure sometimes that they got another actor to play his parts.

  7. Praise indeed! I’ve got this ready to watch. Heard such mixed things about it that I felt I needed to check it out. Great review.

    • Thanks! I highly recommend it, but be prepared. It’s very weird and extremely surreal.

  8. Wow! Thanks for reviewing this because whenever I heard stuff about this film, I didn’t really know what it was. Now I have a better idea 🙂
    It’s really funny though because I was just doing a bit of research on The Crowd (silent from 1928, I just watched it the other day) and the wikipedia article said that its closing shot was echoed here in the beginning. What a coincidence!
    I don’t really know how I’ll feel about this since it does sound really strange, but perhaps I’ll give it a shot. Nice review!

    • Thanks! I do recommend seeing this (it’s available on Netflix currently). I’ve been putting this film off for some time since I read some mixed reviews of the movie but I really loved it.

  9. Great review! I really liked this one as well. It’s one of those movies that can be talked about and dissected in great depth, but can also be simply enjoyed on the level of bizarre entertainment. The way that Carax seemed to comment on society also reminded me a little of Bunuel.

    • Thanks! That’s a good point. It certainly is very complex as well as being very entertaining. Great comparison with Bunuel.

  10. Great review. You sold me on it with “like the collaboration between David Lynch and Terry Gilliam that never happened.”

    I love those guys! I’ll be honest though, of all the reviews I’ve read, including yours, I still don’t feel 100% clear on what the movie is about. 🙂 I’ll probably just have to go ahead and watch it.

    • Thanks! If you like Lynch and Gilliam, you should love this. I didn’t quite understand 100% of the movie myself, but it’s incredibly entertaining.

  11. I really hated this film. Felt so bad so bad for Eva Mendes.

    • Thanks for commenting. I remember reading your negative review a few months ago. What Mendes went through must have been rough but I don’t feel bad for her as an actress. She did take the job knowing what it would be like. Isabella Rossellini went through the same process in Blue Velvet.

  12. It’s a film that seems to evoke love or hatred. I’m curious. Nice review!

    • Thanks! It’s available on Netflix right now. It’s certainly a love-hate film and I really adored this picture.

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