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Review: Holy Motors / Cert: 18 / Director: Leos Carax / Screenplay: Leos Carax / Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue / Release Date: January 28th

Once the golden boy of French cinema, Leos Carax hadn't had a critical and commercial hit since the 1980s. However, he's been propelled right to the top again by Holy Motors. Boasting more layers than a whole string of onions, not to mention stunning cameos from Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes and a female contortionist in a skin-tight mo-cap suit, his first feature in 12 years has been collecting five star reviews the way a Left Bank cafe collects starving artists. And, funnily enough, its cryptic central character also has his ups and downs, going from riches to rags in the opening minutes. So maybe it's autobiographical then? Cue Gallic shrug of shoulders.

Monsieur Oscar (Lavant) is driven around Paris in a white stretch limo to nine enigmatic appointments which see him taking on a diverse range of personae, including a wealthy banker, a hunchbacked beggar woman and a satyr-like creature (complete with curly hard-on) that abducts a supermodel from the Pere-Lachaide cemetery and takes her down into a seedy underworld. During the process, he seems to die at least three times. The upshot is as intricately chic, intermittently bizarre and occasionally shocking as a nine-course nouvelle cuisine extravaganza, but what does it all portend?

The first thing to note is that, while some critics have been dazzled by its originality and audacity, Holy Motors in fact fits quite comfortably into a form of French art movie that draws on the theatre for its inspiration – think of directors such as Marcel Carné, Alain Resnais and Jean Cocteau. Cocteau's Orphée seems like a particular touchstone, with its supernaturals portrayed as smoothly efficient technocrats purring along in motorized cortèges, and there's more than a whiff of Cirque du Soleil in the mo-cap girl sequence. As for what exactly is going on, it's anyone's guess. Maybe Oscar's a jobbing actor hired to take part in these riddling vignettes. Or someone ensnared in a spell, more prisoner than client. Or maybe (a la Cocteau) a minor shapeshifting deity – after all, his limo's licence plate contains the letters DXM (deus ex machina? The 'machina' being the holy motor of the title? Him being the 'deus'?). Time for another Gallic shrug. 

Whatever the rationale, the film seems to be saying something about the nature of role-playing in the virtual environment we all now inhabit, the holy motor of the Internet, and about the soul-destroying properties of a world without consequences. It's also a sampling of the pleasures of cinema, with each encounter touching on a different genre – sci-fi, fantasy, crime, melodrama, musical (yes, Kylie sings!). Quite how deep it really is remains moot, but it's a stylish exercise in existential tristesse.

Extras: Deleted scenes / Interview with Leos Carax


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