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May 10, 2017

‘Holy Motors’ confounds

Get ready for a French romp of avant-garde proportions, spending a full day alongside an actor struggling with his identity and coming to terms with his multiple lives.

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“Holy Motors” sets up the story showing an audience sleeping while an old movie is playing. Le Dormeur (Leos Carax) is the catalyst for starting up “Holy Motors.” As it begins to pick up, the main focus of the film is a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), an actor who plays other people in the real world without any cameras.

The film follows Oscar on his daily journey through multiple lives, each extremely different from the next. From dawn to dusk, Oscar is a family man, beggar, captain of industry, motion capture artist, dying old man, assassin, accordion player and various other personalities.

The cinematography in “Holy Motors” is mystifying as it views the city of Paris through glass windows and projects Oscar’s loneness as he switches lives within a scheduled time frame.

During each switch, it’s back into the pale horse limousine, providing both comfort and a sense of claustrophobia at the same time, which is, at times, overwhelming. Throughout Oscar’s day the audience sees the impact that each life has on him before suiting up into the next costume and make-up.

Each personality is unique, which is entertaining, but it leaves many questions unanswered. It’s not made clear who Oscar is or what the intentions of his agency are, but it doesn’t seem to matter; the film is about a day in his life, not the reasons behind the things he does.

But it’s still an avant-garde film that has very weird and sometimes spontaneous turns within the plot. The first half hour of the movie leaves audiences dumbfounded at what’s being presented on screen.

“Holy Motors” plays out much like a Bollywood film, presenting audiences with multiple genres that vary with each scene. At one point the film is like a drama then it switches into a crime thriller; flip-flopping between different genres as Oscar switches personalities.

Nearing the climax of the “Holy Motors” the audience sees the impact that the multiple lives have on Oscar. Even his chauffer Celine (Edith Scob) notices the amount of stress her actor is under.

“Holy Motors” demonstrates Oscar’s grief by introducing Jean (Kylie Minogue) suddenly as Celine almost smashes into another agency car. The scenes shared between Oscar and Jean give audiences a little background into Oscar’s past. It’s this scene that explains the tragic romance the pair once shared and their daily struggles with their own identities. This identity struggle is another central theme of the film.

Screenplay writer and director Leos Carax, a film critic-turned-director, guides the audience through his scripted world of Paris. Carax has directed many short films, like “My Last Minute” (2006) and “42 One Dream Rush” (2009).

“Holy Motors” also contains several shocking moments that stand out against the rest of the film’s plot, including scenes of graphic violence and sexuality. It’s hard to say exactly what Carax is trying to accomplish with “Holy Motors,” but he does know what he’s doing with the cinematography and sometimes dark mise-en-scene.

For those unfamiliar with French avant-garde film, “Holy Motors” falls flat in terms of humor; fans of French avant-garde will get certain jokes instantly, but a viewer unfamiliar will be left all the more confused. Even so, the humor in the film is as dry as tumbleweed moving across the movie screen.

Carax has created something that most film critics will talk about in future generations. It’s a film that has a few what the hell moments, dry dull humor and gritty mise-en-scene pieces scattered across the underbelly of Paris. For avant-garde fans it’s a good film, but “Holy Motors” won’t appeal to every persons best interests.

Paul Bagnall can be reached at pbagnall@student.umass.edu

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