Top Fifty Films of 10s — Number Thirty-Five

top 50 00s 35

#35 — Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)

It takes a peculiar skill to make a movie that’s utterly bonkers and yet marvelously lucid, simultaneously reckless and tightly controlled. French director Leos Carax went a long time between films before Holy Motors, with more than ten years absent from the cinema. At times, it seemed as though every last inkling he had during that spell is poured into the feature, and Carax does acknowledge he drew from aborted works. Logic is superseded by ambition. Consistently is cast aside in favor of grand invention. Why hone a narrative when it it far more enjoyable to render pure possibility?

It’s an abuse of language to say Holy Motors has a plot, but it does have a through line. There is a man named Oscar (Dennis Lavant) and he rides in a limousine, driven by Céline (Édith Scob). Oscar is going to work, and his job is shifting identity. He dons wigs and makeup and ventures back out into the city, perhaps orchestrating a kidnapping or pretending to die or maybe just pumping an accordion to lead an ad hoc band in a musical performance. If the shifts don’t fully track within the context of world Carax constructs, the journey of Oscar makes sense in the extended metaphor laid out. Oscar is an actor, moving from one performance to the next, as signaled by the opening sequence that finds a man (Carax gives himself the cameo role) awaking and entering, as if by magic, a movie theater. The whole world is cinema, cinema is the whole world, and storytelling is the lifeblood of it all.

Carax’s uncommon visual styling is perhaps the element that most distinguishes Holy Motors from other films that employ metafictional tomfoolery and allegorical sleight of hand to celebrate the cinematic arts. The screen is alive with creativity, Carax seemingly bending light and color to his inexhaustible imagination. And yet the flourishes never feel indulgent. Somehow Carax makes every bold choice an organically sound realization of what has come before it. It is not a film without rules, but instead one that takes the rules and rewrites them to make them better, a more proper representation of the wide boundaries afforded by the medium. Despite its rambunctious inner spirit, Holy Motors doesn’t demolish. It fortifies.

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