Without a narrative to speak of, Holy Motors follows Carax regular Denis Lavant as he’s driven around in a stretched limo that doubles as a dressing room, setting up a series of loony vignettes that see him transformed into ever-more outrageous characters: from the leader of a parade of barechested skinhead accordion players raging through a church, to Monsieur Merde, a flower-munching, erection-wielding goblin worthy of Rabelais, to a latex-clad cyber-pornstar performing a ‘sex’ scene so bizarre it’ll have psychoanalysts frothing at the mouth.
In structure and intent, it’s strongly reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s classic book If on a winter’s night a traveller. Just as Calvino celebrated literature by offering the opening chapters of ten different novels that were never written, so too Carax celebrates cinema by giving us a glimpse of 10 different films that could have been.
Unfortunately, the film shares the book’s weakness: while most of the episodes are brilliant, those that fail kill its momentum and, lacking anything concrete for the viewer to be invested in, highlight a lack of substance beneath the stylistic flourishes and unbridled intertextuality. Nevertheless its sheer lunatic audacity and ambition make for a laudable and incredibly refreshing spectacle.
Holy Motors | Directed by Leos Carax (France, Germany 2012) with Denis Lavant, Kylie Minogue, Michel Piccoli. Starts August 30