10 November 2012

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012, France)

You can't really deny that this film is a pretty pure example of masturbatory filmmaking. The filmmaker here has cobbled together all of these concepts of his in a way that seems very personal, and possibly somehow autobiographical. At the same time, the audience is constantly stroked, exactly like the audience in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris for being hip to what he's doing here or there. It's also pretty easy to say it's like a David Lynch movie, but not as straightforward. For me, there were stretches of the film that I found tedious or insipid, but there were also segments that I found compelling or even beautiful.

Denis Lavant, who played the main character Merde in that annoying middle section of that omnibus film Tokyo! from 2008 or something, is back here playing the same character and about ten others. In the film, he is chauffeured around in a limosine, possibly with bodyguard protection, and taken to different "sessions" or appointments. The almost mystical chaufffeur is played by mesmerising Édith Scob, who is perhaps best known as the girl in Franju's Eyes Without a Face. Like many of the characters in the film, it's hard to know whether to think of them as benevolent or menacing. Perhaps, as in many dreams, the figures are meant maintain the suspense of that mystery. They make nine or so stops and at each stop, Lavant plays a different character: a gypsy beggarwoman, a green screen actor, that same stupid troll from that Tokyo!movie, an emotionally abusive father, a murderous gangbanger, etc.

Man is said to differ from other apes in his propensity to ask why. So watching all these episodes, which end in the chauffuer donning her Eyes Without a Face mask and leaving the cars to themselves, it's hard not to try to make connections. He's clearly working through something about the artist's role, probably about his own life as well, since the protagonist's name is the director's real middle name, and it ends with a photograph of his lost lover. Like any other story about artists, it's easy to see metaphysical themes in the piece. Maybe god is in all these people in all these acts. I don't know, maybe this guy is just self-absorbed and preoccupied with the grotesque. I can't tell if it's because I had lost patience by that point in the film, but I was really surprised by how absolutely bored I was during the entire Kylie Minogue scene. In constrast, I was pleasantly surprised by Eva Mendes in the film. She's in the session with the stupid troll, but for some reason the troll shtick just barely tips toward succeeding in this film while it pretty squarely hit with a thud in Tokyo! Weirdly, my biggest reaction to the film is that my new dream is to enter Paris by car some day. I think I've been to Paris three times, but all three times I entered by train. In fact, I don't think I've ever even taken a cab in Paris, but this film makes driving around Paris look incredibly beautiful, all the while eschewing a lot of the kitsch that that idea is probably conjuring in your mind. In fact, there are all kinds of gorgeous views of the city, particularly as they stand atop the historic Samaritaine department store, which is allegedly being converted into a hotel, according to the interwebs.

I imagine I will probably watch this movie again at some point in the future, but I can't think of many people I'd recommend it to. I'm honestly surprised by the critical reception it's received. It won the awards for best film, best director, and best actor at the Chicago International Film Festival. I wasn't surprised at all to find out at after seeing the film that the director's mother is a long time friend of the festival organizer. Maybe it was nepotism, my cynical side says. Of course, it's also true, as the French say, à chacun son goût. I don't know, I can see making love letters to the movies, but for me there needs to be more than that, and this film didn't really connect to me like it seems to connect to a lot of other people. Oh well.

It occurs to me while reading through these reviews that I really did love the film for about the first third and it gradually kind of wore on me. Like Roger Ebert apparently, it brought to my mind the Walt Whitman line, "I contain multititudes." I guess I'd also agree with Ebert that the film is exasperating and sometimes funny, though I didn't really sop it up as much as he did. It's amazing how all these reviews keep talking about how exciting and not boring this movie is, since I was more or less bored for much of the second half of the film. The sessions in the latter half become increasingly more dour and confounding, I thought. In reading these reviews though, it's surprising how many people, like myself, seem to have forgotten about one of the more enjoyable scenes in the film, the entr'acte, in which a band of hipster accordionistes rampages through an old church.
I've also discovered that the title refers to old film cameras and the movie, shot on digital for financial reasons, seems to be about the death of film in some ways, though the director says allegedly that this movie isn't about film at all. I feel as gypped as the next guy when it comes to seeing a movie in digital projection, but I don't know how thrilling a two hour lament on the subject is.
It's funny as I read through the reviews listed at mrqe.com, everyone seems to agree that this movie will elicit all these possible responses from the audience. It's a unique film, but it's not as unique as people say it is. It can be touching, it can funny, and it can be frustrating, but I really don't see why people react so strongly to it. There was one review somewhere that said that the film says most of what it has to say in the first few episodes. I'd agree with that. My own experience of the film is that it would have benefited from some trimming, since like I said before there were some significant dull patches in the second half of the film.

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