Monday, October 29, 2012

Holy Motors

Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, currently playing at Film Forum, is surrealism that is not like Dali or Bunuel or David Lynch. If there’s a Theater of the Absurd, characterized by the work of Ionesco, Beckett, Genet and Pinter in which meaning is turned upside down—in terms of the signifiers of personality and language—then Holy Motors represents the Cinema of the Absurd. However, for a surrealist or absurdist work Holy Motors is oddly linear. The main character Mr. Oscar (an allusion to the Oscars?) is driven around Paris in a white stretch limo by his elegant blond chauffeur Celine (an allusion to Louis-Ferdinand Celine the author of the surreal Journey to the End of the Night?).  In this regard, Holy Motors can also be viewed as a road movie. Mr. Oscar dons varying guises as he fulfills his successsive “rendezvous.” He’s dressed as a crippled beggar, as a superhero whose feats are played out in a series of images that represent an amalgam of an MRI and a video game, and a Christ figure with an erection who kidnaps a top fashion model and dresses her in a burka. In two of his assignations he murders himself, quickly surviving in the form of a double (was the director influenced Dostoevsky’s The Double: A Petersburg Poem or the Borges story based on it, The Other?). In several sequences Carax reverts to more classic drama. In one the punishment Oscar’s daughter, Angele, receives for lying is “to be you, to have to live with yourself.” In another the aged Oscar who has been transformed into a character named Mr. Vorgan apologizes to his niece for giving her the money to attract a man who doesn’t love her, but the emotion conjured up is quickly cut short as Carax’s character gets up from his death bed, pats his niece and his dog, and walks off. The movie ends with Celine returning her stretch to Holy Motors where all the cars talk to each other before being swallowed up by the darkness.

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