The awards are in and Michael Haneke’s Amour deservedly took home Cannes’ Palme d’Or. But enough about the “best” films at Cannes: Let’s talk about the craziest. Despite valiant efforts from Nicole Kidman’s urine-soaked The Paperboy, nothing compared to the completely bat-shit Holy Motors, from French director Leos Carax.
Since its debut — to scattered boos, which were drowned out by rapturous cheers — this confounding French surrealist apparent rumination on acting and filmmaking and life (the director and actors refused to elaborate) was the hottest ticket in Cannes and had everybody talking … the talk being mainly, “What the hell was that?” and “Did that really just happen?” Word traveled so quickly that festival programmers added a special screening of it on the beach on Saturday, and when they inexplicably canceled it to show Red Tails instead, near riots made them revert back to the original plan.
The movie follows a mysterious man named Monsieur Oscar, played with relish by Denis Lavant, who rides around in a white stretch limo to several appointments, each of which requires him to change into a different guise — eleven total. (He begins as a wealthy businessman, then becomes a hunched-over Gypsy beggar woman, for example.) In between appointments, he gets instructions from his longtime chauffeur, Céline (Edith Scob), and grows increasingly tired, seemingly oppressed by his bosses and an unseen audience. Perhaps the funniest vignette is when he rampages through a cemetery as a manic Leprechaun-type monster and kidnaps supermodel Eva Mendes from a photo shoot. Speaking of whom, what the hell is Eva Mendes doing in this crazy French art film? Who knows? But the fact that she’d sign on to do this movie is reason enough to never again doubt that she is a very cool lady and totally worthy of Ryan Gosling’s affections. (Oh, and Kylie Minogue also has a supporting role, plus a musical number.)
This movie is near impossible to describe in a linear fashion, so instead, we’re giving you the A to Z of the sights and sounds of Holy Motors. Spoilers ahead … although this is not a plot that can really be spoiled, per se. Think of them instead as descriptions of scenes that have to be seen to prove they actually happened.
A: Apes, playing M. Oscar’s wife and child.
B: Blood, often spurting and pooling.
C: Cash, eaten by M. Oscar with relish. (Not literally with relish, but you get the idea.)
D: Dueling M. Oscar body doubles, fighting to the death.
E: Eva Mendes! Her presence still blows our minds, particularly how game she is to be thrown over the shoulders of a rampaging Leprechaun man who drags her down to his underground lair.
F: Fingers, bitten off. Also, fatherhood, played tenderly and sternly, when M. Oscar reprimands a teenage daughter for her shyness at a party.
G: Gypsy beggar woman. The first costume change M. Oscar makes after he’s introduced.
H: Hair, Eva Mendes’s, eaten by Leprechaun.
I: Instant burka, crafted by Leprechaun out of the dress Mendes is wearing.
J: Jean-Luc Godard. As film magazine Little White Lies tried to describe it, “It plays a little bit like a Charlie Kaufman film that’s been co-directed by [Luis] Buñuel and Godard.”
K: Kylie Minogue! Also, wow. She sings a musical number about lost love and contemplates suicide while wandering around an abandoned mall.
L: Licking of Eva Mendes’s armpit, with bloody mouth. This happens. Also, limbs of mannequins — strewn throughout the warehouse, where Minogue’s flight attendant character goes with M. Oscar.
M: Motion-capture suits. One of the most visually striking sequences of the movie features Lavant and a tall female contortionist clad in skintight suits covered with motion-capture sensors. They ninja fight, and then they dry hump.
N: That ninja fighting, with axes and bow staffs.
O: Old man’s death scene, played out with striking tenderness, before M. Oscar has to run off to another appointment.
P: Penis. A naked and very aroused Leprechaun man lays his head on Eva Mendes’s lap as she sings him a lullaby.
Q: Quizzical expressions on the face of the audience, which may turn to rapture in some, and irritation in others.
R: Reality television. M. Oscar is told by a boss that the viewers are turning against him, and he replies that the cameras are so small these days he’s forgotten they’re there. Also, repeat viewings: highly necessary.
S: Socket wrench finger key. The opening sequence features a mysterious blind man (played by Carax himself) who unlocks a door in a wall using his own key-finger.
T: Theatrical dressing room, in back of limo.
U: Unpeeling of latex-manufactured wrinkles and deformities, which M. Oscar indulges in after each appointment (done slowly and routinely, as if taking the skin off a grape).
V: “Visit my website,” the preferred epitaph on the tombstones in a cemetery visited by the Leprechaun man.
W: Wigs, liberally employed. Kylie Minogue’s makes her look like Mia Farrow.
X: Pola X, Carax’s last Cannes entry thirteen years ago.
Y: Yearning, for rest, recognition, and human (or ape-ish) connection, played with poignancy.
Z: Zebras. There are none, but honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised.