In the present day and age, cinema is mostly consumed as mere entertainment. The very idea that constructive and imaginative side of cinema struggles to withhold its ground and people are not only bored but scared of seeing films that shake the very core of their beliefs brings us to a very strange reality – We are all dead when we enter a theatre. We see what has been presented in a very linear fashion and the allegory or perspective of the filmmaker is often left to dissemination until it’s barked and said to the infant side of us.
Having not seen enough to completely comprehend what postmodernism has done to films, I’ll take an example that best sits with me. Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Dead Man’, a psychedelic western that refers to William Blake (a 19th-century poet) on a quest to find the reason for his existence in a 20th-century wasteland. In my opinion, the poetry, the character (read: Nobody) and the deconstruction of the genre set it as a perfect example of a post-modern film. However, Leos Carax’s 2012 film ‘Holy Motors’ defines postmodernism. It is not just something that is ‘Weird for the sake of being weird’ but also something that deeply resonates with one’s psyche constantly questioning imagination and creativity.
After obsessively watching and re-watching the film, I often replay the Accordion scene. The scene which is supposed to be a sort of interlude/intermission to a film that’s just a little short of 2 hours. What is it suppose to mean? Why does a film as dark and surreal as this one have such a joyous moment in between? I, for one, think that this very scene is the biggest critic that ‘Holy Motors’ presents to us as the audience. As the scene happened, I have already forgotten that I had just witnessed death and a monster eating and abusing a lady. Regrettably so, we have reached a point in our lives where we have become vignette-consumers. We can only see, witness and remember small details of what could have been a truly visceral experience – through and through.
Hence, ‘Holy Motors’ becomes a critic on cinema as a whole. Where it considers the medium through which we consume these reels that films are made off to be constantly shifting and changing. It’s also a deeply personal ode to death and grief. Where Carax is not only grieving and angry because of the suicide of his wife but is also immensely concerned with making things right with his daughter. This interpersonal trauma in Leos’s life was obviously like a nightmare where his loss of sleep led him to despair that provoked him to the only gateway or release that he understands, i.e CINEMA.
The film is thus an offspring of Carax’s long hiatus from the world of films. His regrets to the change in the medium in which cinema is presently perceived are seen through the eyes of his protagonist – Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant). Our eyes follow Mr. Oscar as he dons 9 roles in his journey through a day of work. What exactly does he do? Well, that’s really hard to comprehend but if you don’t consider ‘Holy Motors’ as just a showcase of streaming vignettes you will understand that Leos Carax aims at building up his main character as an actor. The film is more meta than you can imagine and hence Denis Lavant is not only the actor playing these 9 roles, he is playing an actor who no longer believes that his craft is appreciated in the way it should be. Remember Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman? Well, that, but in a more darkly comical and surreal way.
The film motions us into the life of Mr. Oscar who drives in his limo accompanied by Céline (Edith Scob) as his loyal driver. As he drives around we get to know that he is a workaholic who is really good at his job but then the narrative completely goes awry and we get to see his limo turn into a changing room. He thus dons various roles (read: appointments) through the day that get really bizarre and weird, to say the least.
Now, the film can have multiple interpretations. It can be considered to be a dream where all our insecurities, our issues and our aches form an image into our subconscious and hence we battle them one after the other. The sequences of a beggar waiting for death can always be interpreted as a person’s loneliness finally getting tumbled down by his own psychological traits. But the dream interpretations never really makes sense for all the things involved. What ‘Holy Motors’ really talks about is the death of cinema as a form. The very form where people are always looking for certain things in a film, mostly – entertainment. Where they completely and utterly spit against any further bewilderment in any sense whatsoever.
Carax satirises the idea of mere entertainment in films. His character surprises and amazes us while performing jobs that a clown would do. However, beneath all the bizarreness and amusement that Oscar pulls off with greatness is an audacious and darkly comical representation of an artist doing his best while also believing that his best will never be good enough for the ‘beholders.’ The tombstones in the cemetery are representations of a world taken up by the storm of the social media and the internet. Where films are so easily accessible that the whole construction and hard work that goes behind it – the people involved jumping through hoops to get it made; never get their dues.
‘Holy Motors’ is a fascinating film. It’s an unflinching, surreal and erratic ode to films and film-making. While it symbolises the death of cinema it also symbolises a new mode of cinematic treatment. One that will see its eventual re-birth if films are considered as something more than just entertainment. Boosted by probably the best performance of the decade by Denis Lavant, ‘Holy Motors’ is a puzzling masterpiece. An absurd oddity like no other.