They say a man wears many masks in his life. In the case of Monsieur Oscar, this is highly literal. The film Holy Motors spans a day in his working life as he travels from 'appointment' to 'appointment' where he shifts roles and characters If you're looking for something tightly plotted with twists and turns before it's all neatly resolved then this is not for you.
We learn early on that Monsieur Oscae has nine appointments on said day. He is chauffeured around by Celine, who is clad in a white tailored pantsuit that matches the shiny white limousine they cruise around Paris in. The plot itself is not difficult to follow – it's finding meaning in the many different lives Monsieur Oscar briefly inhabits that may cause problems for viewers.
Some of what we see is stranger than other parts. For example, we meet a troll-like character who crosses the city in the sewers before surfacing into a cemetery (where many of the tombstones say 'visit my website' for some weird reason). He then begins eating flowers by the wreaths as they are laid on the graves he is passing. Did I mention that he's wearing a dark green corduroy suit with no shirt and the pants are ankle-freezers? It is in this guise that he meets Eva Mendes's supermodel character and what follows is one of the strangest sequences of the film - and in case I haven't made it clear, that is really saying something.
Visually the film is a treat. Shot with creativity and flair, it showcases why many have such a love affair with Paris, particularly on film where it is more beautiful than in real life sometimes. Perhaps however that is partly why this particular Paris is so appealing in this film – precisely because it isn't 'real'. As a viewer it made me question whether the lives Oscar inhabits offer anything in the way of reality - and does it matter whether they do or not? We get no real idea of the back-story with each appointment but we know that there is one, and much of the time there are others characters involved in the 'appointment' that share this history. It is only us as the audience who are in the dark and left to piece things together as best we can.
Kylie Minogue's appearance is surprisingly good. She gives a nicely nuanced performance and the vocals she has provided are probably her best since Where the Wild Roses Grow, her duet with Nick Cave who, incidentally, Monsieur Oscar forcibly reminded me of at times.
Once, a girl in one of a tute for a poetry subject I was forced to do said that even if you don't understand the meaning of a poem you can still appreciate the sound of the words together; the tutor disagreed, saying that if you can't understand what the poet is saying, then it isn't successful. Is the same thing true of film? If it is then I can't say Holy Motors is completely successful for me as I'm not sure that I 'got it'. Nonetheless, I didn't dislike it and I was as entertained as I was perplexed most of the time. It was certainly an odd and original film.
How meaningful it was as a whole is somewhat debatable and it isn't a good date movie for the masses; you probably know if you're likely to enjoy or appreciate it or not from this review. If you like things that are obscure or slightly left of centre then perhaps give it a go. I've seen various quotes from other reviews describing it as 'as absolute blast' which makes it sound a lot more fun that I found it.
Over the span of his appointments Oscar is a banker, a stunt/motion capture worker (this particular sequence is visually spectacular but again, things gets a bit weird), the troll in the sewers, an elderly, hunchbacked beggar woman who hasn't seen anything but feet and stone for years, an assassin of sorts, a dying uncle... All of which he prepares for from the back of his limo where he even has a mirror surrounded by electric light bulbs just like in a real clichéd dressing room. There is an overly and explicitly performative aspect to every part of the film. Even the idea that Oscar is in fact being watched throughout his transformations by people I assume are his employers. Who are these employers? The film seems entirely uninterested in answering this question. It is the performance itself that matters – passing the artifice off as something reasonably close to reality seems to be the point, making it a weird, and perhaps wonderful look at our world today.
When Oscar completes his last appointment for the day, which looks like it will be much more normal than it ends up being, we aren't quite done yet. Instead, we get a final glimpse into the unique reality of the film which, while bizarre, is very fitting.
If you like all things Carroll and Kafka then perhaps give this a go. If you shy away from the strange or unexplained however, I would give it a miss.