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Léos Carax’s HOLY MOTORS is a dazzling tribute to Paris, cinema, and the art of storytelling

Léos Carax’s HOLY MOTORS is a dazzling tribute to Paris, cinema, and the art of storytelling

HOLY MOTORS (Léos Carax, 2012)
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave. at Second St.
Saturday, June 22, 4:30, and Monday, June 24, 6:45

French writer-director Léos Carax (Boy Meets Girl, Mauvais Sang) has made only five feature films in his thirty-plus-year career, a sadly low output for such an innovative, talented director, but he has now given birth to his masterpiece, the endlessly intriguing, confusing, and exhilarating Holy Motors. His first film since 1999’s POLA X, the new work is a surreal tale of character and identity, spreading across multiple genres in a series of bizarre, entertaining, and often indecipherable set pieces. Holy Motors opens with Carax himself playing le Dormeur, a man who wakes up and walks through a hidden door in his room and into a movie theater where a packed house, watching King Vidor’s The Crowd, is fast asleep. The focus soon shifts to Carax alter ego Denis Lavant as Monsieur Oscar, a curious character who is being chauffeured around Paris in a white stretch limo driven by the elegant Céline (Édith Scob). Oscar has a list of assignments for the day that involve his putting on elaborate costumes — including revisiting his sewer character from Merde, Carax’s contribution to the 2009 omnibus Tokyo! that also included shorts by Michel Gondry and Bon Joon-ho — and becoming immersed in scenes that might or might not be staged, blurring the lines between fiction and reality within, of course, a completely fictional world to begin with. It is as if each scene is a separate little movie, and indeed, Carax, whose middle name is Oscar, has said that he made Holy Motors after several other projects fell through, so perhaps he has melded many of those ideas into this fabulously abstruse tale that constantly reinvents itself. The film is also a loving tribute to Paris, the cinema, and the art of storytelling, with direct and indirect references to Franz Kafka, E. T. A. Hoffman, Charlie Chaplin, Lon Chaney, Eadweard Muybridge, Georges Franju, and others. (Scob, who starred in Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, at one point even pulls out a mask similar to the one she wore in that classic thriller.) The outstanding cast also features Kylie Minogue, who does indeed get to sing; Eva Mendes as a robotic model; and Michel Piccoli as the mysterious Man with the Birthmark. Holy Motors is screening June 22 & 24 as part of the Anthology Film Archives series “Auto-Cinema,” consisting of films that take place primarily inside cars, exploring human consciousness in ways that are less claustrophobic than one might imagine; the weeklong festival also includes Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry and 10, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and Crash, Saul Levine’s Driven (with Katha Washburn), and a shorts program with works by Alfred Leslie and Frank O’Hara, Bette Gordon and James Benning, Paul Kos and Marlene Kos, Morgan Fisher, and Andrew T. Betzer.

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