Over the past several years, I’ve come to the conclusion that independent film is the place to search for the weird, fantastic, and creative. You know: the stuff of our genre. This is where labors of love and concepts a little too off beat to soothe conservative investors end up, where storytelling gets pushed to its limits… at times unsuccessfully. And with generally smaller budgets, if these films succeed, it’s not because they’ve leaned on visual spectacle and slow-motion pyrotechnics as a distraction
from the fact that it’s really just a story about a white dude’s biceps and the director’s inescapable misogyny.
Since this year’s Skiffy and Fanty theme is World SF, that dovetails perfectly with the hunt for smaller genre films. I hope you’re ready for subtitles. I promise, they won’t hurt a bit. We’re taking a ride on Holy Motors.
- This movie is from: France and Germany
- Language: French (English subtitles)
- Released: July 4, 2012
- I watched it on: Netflix
- IMDB Link: Holy Motors
I’m not going to lie. In the vast, underappreciated pool of independent genre film, this one’s in its own class of deep end, one that might require some SCUBA gear. Holy Motors is considered a fantasy film not because there are elves or dragons, but because a lot of very strange things happen, and you’re really left with no explanation other than that some kind of unreal element is driving the plot.
Holy Motors follows a day in the life of Mr. Oscar, a man who is driven around by a woman named Céline in an impossible limousine filled with props, costumes, and makeup. She takes him to a series of nebulous “appointments,” the nature of which is never explicitly explained, though Mr. Oscar transforms himself into wildly different characters at each and plays out a diverse array of scenes. Even when he appears to have been killed, Mr. Oscar is picked back up by Céline and it all turns out to have been makeup.
I’m hesitant to pretend I know anything for certain about this movie (it’s that kind of movie), but it becomes apparent later on that Mr. Oscar is an actor of sorts, performing for unseen or perhaps non-existent cameras. He’s asked, “Do you still enjoy your work?…some people don’t believe what they’re watching any more.” Mr. Oscar answers, “I miss cameras.”
The scenes Mr. Oscar plays range from pure melodrama to the bizarrely ridiculous. In my favorite of these scenes, Oscar wanders through a graveyard, quite literally chewing the scenery as he grabs up wreaths from the graves and eats the flowers. A headstone he passes reads, “Visit my website.” Accompanied by music from the score of Gojira (1954), he abducts a model from a photo shoot—after biting the fingers off the hilariously American photographer’s assistant—and takes her to a sewer where… I’m not sure how to describe what happens next. It’s very French, and involves a boner, but mercifully no sex.
This movie is bizarre enough that you could really interpret it any way you want. A blistering critique of Hollywood and its artificiality? A love letter to cinema? Commentary on the treatment of actors? Fun and play with genre tropes? About the transformative nature of acting and appearance? You could argue it nearly any way you want, I think, and that’s part of what makes it fascinating.
There is also an absolutely bitchin’ group accordion performance as the interval. No, really.
I feel like I’m not really doing this movie justice, because you’re probably reading this post, scratching your head, and thinking what the hell? And I won’t lie. It’s an experience I had more often than not while watching Holy Motors, and I have it on good authority that it isn’t just because I’m still on vicodin. But it’s a gorgeous, fascinating, perverse movie, because it can be read in so many different directions. It’s challenging and at times darkly hilarious, and I definitely understand why it’s got a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s French. Expect weirdness and nudity. Get both.