Review: Holy Motors (18)

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A baffling odyssey through nocturnal Paris, Holy Motors merges doppelgangers with hit men and monstrous hobos to present one of the most talked-about must-see pictures of the year.

Denis Lavant is Monsieur Oscar, a veritable Man of 1,000 Faces as he is chauffeur-driven by elegant Céline (Edith Scob, the cult star of 1960’s Eyes without a Face) from one appointment to another. During the journeys he transforms into a succession of characters. Arriving at his destinations – a bridge, a cemetery, a sewer – he enacts scenarios that involve charity, lovemaking, kidnapping and murder.

The cast includes Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue but this is Lavant’s film. Reuniting with writer/director Leos Carax after 1999’s Pola X Lavant storms through a dizzying array of roles as he acts out the orders of an unseen boss.

Reminiscent of a 1970s portmanteau film from the Amicus stable, Holy Motors is deliberately vague and schizophrenically illuminating. Obtuse in a David Lynchian way, it eschews a wider ensemble to allow Lavant to disappear into multiple vignettes.

Carax leaps from one seemingly disconnected tale to another. In one, M Oscar is a motion-capture artist entwined with a statuesque female as they make virtual love; in the next he is a loping lunatic prowling a graveyard where supermodel Kay (Mendes) is the star of a photoshoot.

Carax is careful not to give away clues – if he presents any at all. What is the purpose of M Oscar’s ritual? Are his killings for real? Who is he? Does he actually exist? Is he an instrument of God delivered in a celestial car?

Frequently infuriating, constantly impressive and a significant talking point for any after-dinner gathering Holy Motors is about life and death and the whole damn thing. Whatever you end up thinking about it, you’re probably wrong. Or right. Who knows?