Holy Motors: Is this a mash up of Cindy Sherman’s Photographs, Antonioni’s Blow Up, and Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire?
This is an incredible film that defies explanation. By French director Leos Carax, Holy Motors is a film that references other genres, which it is modeled from, but is completely fresh and defiantly odd, full of compelling energy and strange, thoughtful ruminations.
The film centers around nine or ten “assignments” as they are called, where various impersonations are employed in Zelig-like verve. The first seems simple enough: a rich business man leaves his house for work in a sleek limousine—only he’s not going to work (or is he?). Instead, he changes into an old woman using extensive make up, wigs and other attire, and heads to a street to beg. Next, another assignment requires Oscar (Denis Lavant) to become a leprechaun and reek havoc on a photography shoot set in a cemetery (finger biting included).
The final assignment is strange and maudlin. We find in actuality Oscar is a paid player, and lacks a real identity of his own. He endlessly must become someone anew, and always becomes a stranger in a new way each day. This is hell. Poignantly, he heads “home” but pauses wistfully before entering to greet his “family” (albeit an alternative one) to ponder his fate of endless loneliness.
Some contemporary fine art photography comes to mind when thinking about Holy Motors and identity.
Cindy Sherman, naturally, seems to be a still photography equivalent to a certain degree but lacks the emotional impact of Holy Motors. Cindy Sherman’s photographs depicts different personalities of today’s society, and seems to say that one’s persona remains only at the surface of things.
The photographer Nikki S. Lee, however, seems to approach Holy Motors in actualizing the roles played. Nikki S. Lee spent time to become her characters, and lived or surrounded herself with real people from the selected tribes. For example, she dressed as a skate boarder and infiltrated that society for some time—and even had her new acquaintances photograph her.
It hardly seems a coincidence that Holy Motors was playing at Film Forum with a documentary about the fine art photographer (and Yale Grad School classmate) Greg Crewdson.
Parts of other films seem to loosely remind me of Holy Motors, including Antonioni’s Blow Up (particularly the scenes of that the empty park gives; the mimes transversing scenes incongruently; things in general are not what they seem), and to a certain degree, Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire (for the frequent wincing moments of ennui; angels acting as real).
Holy Motors is a powerful film.
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