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Laramie Movie Scope:
Holy Motors

Strange film about the agony of actors

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 28, 2012 -- This is a movie about people who make movies and people who watch movies, but it is mainly aimed at critics for whom oblique, cryptic films that invite a variety of interpretations are preferable to films that deliver a story clearly. “Holy Motors” is a film that can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways. There is an inherent attraction to this. If I can interpret a film my own way, I become a participant in the film rather than a passive observer of it. My interpretation is from the point of view of a schmuck who drove over 100 miles through the cold and snow to watch this piece of crap.

Trust me, it isn't worth all that. It's not even worth a bluray disk. Regular DVD, or even streaming video, will do just fine. The cinematography is not that good. The story is a series of vignettes, nine of them, in fact, although I didn't keep count. It is announced early on that the man in the stretch limo, Oscar (Denis Lavant) driven by an enigmatic elderly woman, Céline (Edith Scob) has nine “appointments” that day in Paris.

In one appointment, Oscar dresses as an elderly woman and begs for money. In another, he assassinates a man, in another, he abducts a fashion model (and if that's really his junk in that scene, it's impressive) in another, he plays high-tech computer games with some sort of beautiful contortionist refugee from Cirque Du Soleil. At first some of the scenes seem real, like Oscar driving his daughter home from a party, but then it becomes clear, all of this is a series of acts.

For me, it became clear when Oscar is stabbed in the neck and is gushing blood from an artery. A few minutes later, he is fine. There is no evidence that he was almost killed with a knife. In another scene, he is shot a number of times, but again, shows no signs of injury later. In other words, the fact that this is just a movie and none of this is real is rubbed in our faces again and again, particularly in a scene early in the film where a theater full of people is shown watching a movie. A man watches the people in the theater, we watch the man, and so it goes.

Later, we learn that Oscar's “appointments” are actually just performance art in which he, and other people, play roles for hidden cameras. These videos are then played for the entertainment of other people, who presumably pay for the cost of these expensive limousines (there are a whole fleet of them) and all these actors and all their props and stunts and all the damage they do in the real world. But then again, it is just a movie, so none of that really matters.

I think you can see where I am going with this. The intentionally blurry, perhaps non-existent line between so-called “reality” and fantasy is either something you are willing to endure, or not, in my case. You either find this playful and interesting, or you find it a waste of time. For me, I need some level of reality in a movie and I have to be willing to suspend my disbelief to the extent that I can at least provisionally accept the movie's form of reality. There is no offer of any kind of provisional reality in this film. It is an exercise of witnessing acting with no underlying reality behind it on any level. It even devolves into silly fantasy at the end.

Another problem with the film is the message that the actors in the film pay a high personal price for their success. One of them, Jean (played by singer Kylie Minoque) even dies in the film, well, maybe not really, but it looks that way by Oscar's reaction to the scene, which was just acting, by the way. This is nonsense, actors, at least the ones in major motion pictures and TV shows are the most over-paid people around. They are not martyrs. The only actors who really have to work hard are the less successful ones holding down real jobs while they hope to get an acting job and make some real money. Kylie Minoque and Eva Mendes (who plays the abducted model in this film) are making plenty of money and they are not working themselves to death to do it.

If I was in a mood, drunk maybe, I might have gone along with the whimsical playfulness and formlessness of the experience, but I was in no mood for this at the time I saw it. At that time, I was looking for something more substantial. It did not live up to my very high expectations for it. I was disappointed in this film and found it boring, but maybe I'll watch it again sometime, have a couple of beers and laugh at it in the comfort of my own home. If I had watched this in a local theater for free (a perk that some critics enjoy) my reaction might have been quite different. I think that would be a lot more fun than sitting in a theater 100 miles from home having wasted so much money and time on this soap bubble of a movie. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)