Carax’s noir dream carries us into the maddest of reveries

Holy Motors/2012/Indomina Releasing/116 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Behind “Holy Motors” – the strange, perverse and entertaining neo-noir film by Léos Carax – lies a near century of movie surrealism: of deliberately fantastic, illogical and sometimes pathological filmmaking in which the cineaste (whether it’s Luis Bunuel or Jean Cocteau or Maya Deren or Carax) tries to dream on screen and carry us into the maddest of reveries.

Here the reveries are mad indeed. A man and a dog wake up in a strange room with a door that opens into a theater showing a silent film. (Something by a Cocteau or a Bunuel?) The day is just beginning. For the rest of the film, we will follow the (apparently) workday rounds of a traveling player named M. Oscar played by the defiantly sullen and unsmiling anti-star and Carax regular Denis Lavant.

M. Oscar is driven around in a silver limousine by a chauffeur named Celine, played by Edith Scob, the actress who played the faceless girl in Georges Franju’s 1960 horror-fantasy classic “Eyes Without a Face.” As Celine takes him all around Paris (at the behest of a mysterious agency represented at one point by Bunuel favorite Michel Piccoli), M. Oscar appears at various places and plays various roles.

M. Oscar impersonates a financier, an old beggar-woman, a motion-capture lover/dancer in a black unitard, a wild sewer-dwelling hooligan named M. Merde, a tense father of a teenage daughter, a hired killer and his victim, a dying old man, and the old lover of a heart-breaking chanteuse played and sung (to the hilt) by Kylie Minogue. At the end of the day, night has fallen, the actor returns home (to an exceedingly weird household) and the limo joins other cars housed in a garage.

“Holy Motors,” beautifully shot by Caroline Champetier and Yves Cape, is a crazy poem about art and actors and their relation to the world. It would make an interesting double feature with David Cronenberg’s somewhat poetic limo movie, “Cosmopolis,” to which Carax’s film’s is slightly superior. Narrative-bound moviegoers will no doubt be incensed at the sheer oddness of “Holy Motors.” Art-lovers (and lovers of French cinema, from the reveries of Georges Méliès and Louis Feuillade on) may be entranced.

Carax is somewhat different than most of the other cinematic mad dreamers. He manages to get producers to give him larger budgets. Not that often, it’s true. “Holy Motors” is his first feature since “Pola X” (1999), and that was his first since “The Lovers on the Bridge” (1991).

When he shows up, though, he’s usually admired. (In French, with subtitles.)

“Holy Motors,” opens today in LA at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre.

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‘Holy Motors’ picks up three awards at Chicago film fest

By Michael Wilmington

“Holy Motors,” Leos Carax’s surreal French fantasy-drama-thriller-romance (and then some) about a chameleonic actor and his weird limousine journey through nearly a dozen alternate lives, was the big winner at last week’s award ceremony of the 48th annual Chicago International Film Festival. The festival closed tonight.

Carax’s film, his first since “Pola X” in 1999, won the fest’s top prize, the Gold Hugo for Best Film, from the festival jury. “Holy Motors” also took Silver Hugos for Best Actor – Carax regular Denis Lavant – and Best Cinematography, awarded to Yves Capes and Caroline Champetier for their poetic and eerie view of Paris.

Ulla Skoog of Sweden was named Best Actress for her moving role as Puste, the tragic wife of the uncompromising anti-Nazi Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt in writer-director Jan Troell’s superb biographical drama, “The Last Sentence.”

The other awards in the international competition went to Michel Franco’s Mexican-French entry, “After Lucia,” a wounding indictment of high-school bullying that took the Special Jury Prize, and to Merzak Allouache’s “The Repentant” (Algeria/France), which won a Silver Hugo Special Mention.

The New Directors Competition Gold Hugo went to Peter Bergendy’s “The Exam,” a thriller about the dangers of police state surveillance set in ’50s Hungary. The runner-up Silver Hugo was awarded to Zdenek Jiraski’s “Flowerbirds,” a dark look at contemporary family life in the Czech Republic.

The winner of the After Dark Competition, devoted to horror movies, was a familiar name. Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David Cronenberg, took the Gold Hugo for “Antiviral” (Canada/USA), his dystopian futuristic shocker about an industry devoted to celebrity disease. The runner-up was Jaume Balaguero’s “Sleep Tight” (Spain), a psychological thriller about a Barcelona doorman with too many apartment keys.

The Career Achievement Award was given to one-time Chicago-based movie actress Joan Allen.

This year’s festival, an excellent one, offered 175 films from more than 50 countries. The CIFF award ceremony was held in festive surroundings at the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, and featured presentations by ebullient CIFF founder/artistic director Michael Kutza and others. The main feature jury included directors Patrice Chereau of France and Joe Maggio of the U.S., actress Alice Krige of the UK and South Africa, actor/producer Amir Waked of Egypt, and Daniele Cauchard of Canada, general director of the Montreal World Film Festival. As usual, it was a great time.

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