Holy Motors | Movie review
Denis Lavant tackles the role(s) of a lifetime in Leos Carax’s crazed Cannes favorite.
Some day, an editor is going to put together a highlight reel of Denis Lavant’s greatest performances. Will most of it be scenes from Holy Motors? The mercurial French veteran tackles a career’s worth of plum parts in Leos Carax’s madly inspired new movie. As Monsieur Oscar, an actor in practice if not profession, Lavant travels the streets of Paris in a bone-white limousine, disembarking every few minutes to don a different disguise. Here he is as a hunchbacked homeless woman, begging for change and spitting strange poetry. There he is as a horny, finger-chomping sewer troll—a role he already occupied in Carax’s daft contribution to the omnibus film Tokyo! And wait till you see the star slip into spandex for a motion-capture recording session, executed with the same frenzied grace he brought to the dance finale of Beau Travail.
As you might surmise, this is a movie about movies, with each of Lavant’s transformations functioning as a gateway into a different genre. Some of the episodes are more compelling than others. (We’d trade the whole monster rampage for just a few more bittersweet moments with Kylie Minogue’s fellow entertainer, who sings a showstopping show tune in an abandoned department store.) Yet even at its most self-indulgent, Holy Motors never lacks for feeling. Lavant invests his odyssey of oddball gigs with the weariness of an aging thespian, losing a little more of himself in every new character. That we can get wrapped up in his one-act performances, despite the constant reminder that each is nothing more than a masquerade, feels like a tribute to cinema’s victory over logic and reason. That, and a testament to the fearless shape-shifter at center stage.