Carax film am­bi­tious but never pompous

‘Holy Mo­tors’

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - D rat­ing: Un­rated, but features graphic male nu­dity and adult themes. run­ning time: 1 hour, 55 min­utes. the­ater: Alamo South.

au­di­ences at its pre­miere in Cannes and later at Fan­tas­tic Fest.

The story be­gins in earnest with a small man named Mon­sieur Os­car (De­nis La­vant) leav­ing what ap­pears to be his house to head to work. He climbs in­side a stretch white limou­sine. Through the par­ti­tion in­side the os­ten­ta­tious car, he dis­cusses his daily agenda with the ele­gant and gor­geous Ce­line (Édith Scob). He has nine ap­point­ments sched­uled for the day.

But th­ese aren’t busi­ness meet­ings. Os­car will travel the streets of Paris through­out the day and night per­form­ing a pe­cu­liar role-play with a host of characters. His work is at once dan­ger­ous, macabre, vul­ner­a­ble, bru­tal and beau­ti­ful.

The limou­sine looks like the back­stage of an old the­ater, com­plete with van­ity mir­ror and a sup­ply of cos­tumes. The diminu­tive but mus­cu­lar La­vant, look­ing like a taut trapeze artist, trans­forms com­pletely as he moves from old beg­gar woman to scorn­ful fa­ther and pro­fes­sional killer.

Af­ter en­gag­ing in his role-play, he re­turns to his car and be­gins his next cos­tume change. Each in­ter­ac­tion of­fers a chance for Os­car to help those in the scenes find an emo­tional con­nec­tion or some type of clo­sure.

It is un­clear whether th­ese par­tic­i­pants are per­form­ing as well, but at one point Os­car’s stern boss (prolific French ac­tor Michel Pic­coli) en­ters the limou­sine and reprimands Os­car for los­ing his en­thu­si­asm for the work. The cam­eras are watch­ing, he tells Os­car, even if they’re un­de­tectable. Who the au­di­ence is re­mains a mys­tery as well.

The most un­set­tling scene oc­curs when Os­car takes on the per­sona of Mon­sieur Merde (a char­ac­ter Carax in­tro­duced in the 2008 film “Tokyo!,” which he di­rected with Michel Gondry and South Korean film­maker Bong Joon-ho). Dressed in green with a fierce red beard, Merde, look­ing like a home­less troll, en­ters a park and ab­sconds from a high-class photo shoot with a gor­geous model (Eva Men­des), whom he takes to a sub­ter­ranean lair. But dur­ing his graphic se­duc­tion of the model (pre­pare for full­frontal male nu­dity), the roles re­verse and Merde re­verts to a help­less child rest­ing in the lap of his adored. Among other things, Carax has said the creepy char­ac­ter rep­re­sents “fear and pho­bia.”

The film is at its most emo­tion­ally res­o­nant and chill­ing in a se­quence with a lost and de­pressed flight at­ten­dant, Eva Grace (Kylie Minogue), who wan­ders a va­cant build­ing singing “Who Were We?,” a song draped in a stark sad­ness and pu­rity. The song is part of an ex­cel­lent sound­track that moves from rous­ing (an amaz­ing ac­cor­dion se­quence) to mourn­ful (Ger­ard Manset’s ode to the pas­sage of time, “Re­vivre”).

Carax stuffs his film with count­less film and lit­er­ary ref­er­ences — Vi­dor, Merde’s “Beauty and the Beast” mo­tif, 1960’s “Eyes With­out a Face,” nods to Franz Kafka — as one would ex­pect from a di­rec­tor who got his start writ­ing for French film jour­nal Cahiers du Cin­ema.

Though the movie has ob­vi­ous artis­tic am­bi­tions, it never feels pre­ten­tious, in part due to the dark hu­mor and La­vant’s cap­ti­vat­ing per­for­mance. Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Caro­line Cham­petier cap­tures the long­ing of the characters with art­ful close-ups and paints Paris as a cra­dle of melan­cholic beauty.

It’s hard to parse Carax’s ex­act mean­ing. Ru­mi­na­tions on our dis­con­nected mod­ern world (as seen in the limou­sine and tomb­stones la­beled with web­sites), rein­car­na­tion and in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity, and life as per­for­mance cer­tainly leave a mark. But, as with most of David Lynch’s movies, “Holy Mo­tors” is the kind of film that you feel first and un­der­stand later. It leaves it­self open for end­less in­ter­pre­ta­tion, a sign of fully re­al­ized art.

And some­how, even with a fam­ily of mon­keys and an ex­tremely bizarre bene­dic­tion, the movie con­nects with a des­per­ate place that of­ten goes ig­nored. It may be the weird­est and most chal­leng­ing movie to open in Austin this year. It’s also oddly mov­ing.

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