Holy Motors

Anything described as 'impossible to pin down' is going to fire up those lepidopterology urges. Holy Motors is rather weird, sure. A portmaneau fantasy film in which the mysterious Mr Oscar is driven around to various surreal 'appointments', where he dons elaborate costumes and participates (or disrupts) wildly different pieces of theatrical or cinematic performance. None of it makes any literal sense. Rather, the film is about watching actors, plays and films – and its contention is that you can stretch these activities in all kinds of wonderful ways. One of the clues that point in this meta direction is that the film begins with a shot of the director waking up in a cinema. Another clue is the brief flashes of a silent film in which a naked man tumbles around, reminding us that cinema began with disjointed displays of human action, and that we're about to witness a return to such principles.

All that's very well and good, but it did strike me when watching the brief musical 'intermission' in the middle of the film that the individual chapters have the feel of high-end music videos. Music videos have a limited time in which to do something interesting, and therefore often spend it taking something familiar and giving it a twist. It's a formula Holy Motors is indebted to. A overworked father comes home to his family, who turn out to be chimpanzees. A mad vagrant crashes into a fashion shoot, abducts the model and covers her up in a full body veil. A father picks up his daughter from her first house party, and gets annoyed when he learns she spent the evening hiding in the bathroom rather than flirting with boys.

These examples are the best because the get at the real success of the film, which is that it is actually quite funny. Most of the surrealism is about attacking our expectations (it's the vagrant that is sexualised rather than the model, the man who is married to a chimp has a home-life much less drab than we are led to believe, and so on). The film is knowingly perverse, winking at and flipping audience expectations. But even then, British comedy like The League of Gentlemen, Big Train and The Mighty Boosh have done this kind of stuff before. Holy Motors is frequently spectacular, but it would only feel innovative if you haven't been paying attention to motion pictures made outside the feature film format.

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