Sacre Bleu!

The other night was clearly destined to be multicultural. A friend and I settled in with some cold English cider, some tangy Chinese food, and the Frenchiest movie I think I've ever seen. Amelie would look at this movie and be, like, "Whoa, tone it down, Frenchie." The movie was Holy Motors, and it appeared on a lot of people's Top Ten lists last year. I can see why - this is clearly a film that was going to get critics talking. It's also such a strange movie that it's difficult to describe; I mean how does one sum up a film where a man puts on a motion capture body suit and does martial arts before simulating sex with a contortionist so that their bodies can be projected in snake form up on a screen...and that's one of the least unusual things to take place?

In the nuttiest of nutshells, the protagonist (Mr. Oscar) rides around Paris in a limo, donning various costumes and prostheses to act out designated "appointments". In one, he's an old woman begging for change on the side of the road, and in another, a crazy, hunched, one-eyed leprechaun who bites off a lady's fingers. We're given to understand that all of these appointments are being filmed and watched by a particular audience paying for extreme realism, but we never see a camera. Even this doesn't fully explain what's going on, as odd things continue to occur even after the appointments are done for the day.

When it was over, I initially gave it a solid B. As with Cloud Atlas, I respect an ambitious movie that tries to accomplish something remarkable, even if it's not wholly successful. In thinking about it and talking it over with others over the next few days, though, it slipped a little in my estimation. Although the premise of the appointments is fascinating, I could feel myself marking them off in my head. Mr. Oscar's chauffeur mentions that he'll have nine appointments for the day, and at one point I caught myself wondering, "Jeez, is he only on number four? Is this movie going to be seven hours long?" And although the kaleidoscopic plot is interesting, there was never anything even remotely explicit about why this is happening or what this man gains from his work. I've since read about how it's an exploration of cinema (which also explains the mass fawning - critics always overpraise movies about the glory of movies), but in the moment, it struck me as a series of vignettes with no real connective thread.

It's still a fascinating movie, and I'm really glad I watched it. But after the credits roll and the accordions fade, I have to admit... Holy Motors kind of runs out of gas.

Holy Motors: B-


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