I really enjoyed and appreciated Holy Motors for all it’s ambitious and quirky glory. It struck me as a movie that was deeply personal not just for the actor Mr Oscar but for the director as well. As a searcher, I decided to seek out more information regarding Holy Motors and the story behind it’s creation. I found this very interesting write up by the New York Times.
The article talks about the sense of nostalgia and introspection the permeates the Leos Carax’s film and also presents information that shows the movie as a homage to the end of analog film and the blurred lines between the identity of an actor and the roles in which he inhabits. I was struck by how much of Carax’s personal life inhabits the film through working with passed lovers and close friends. Holy Motors is of course dedicated to one of his former lovers. Carax states at one point “You make films for the dead,” Mr. Carax said, “but they’re seen by the living.” his film to me seems like a way to deconstruct the manner by which we live our lives in a digital age. The the constant loss and rebirth of ourselves as we constantly shift our identity to match the context of our lives. He meditates on how exhausting this constant transformation can be through Mr Oscar’s own growing weariness throughout the duration of the film and a nostalgia for the things we’ve lost to gain something new in a world dictated by impermanence.
I’m glad I get to be a searcher this week because to me, art is more about intent than interpretation. I’ve had disagreements about with friends in the past. Generally speaking, people appreciate art for what it makes them feel, but I find pleasure in the intent and purpose of it all. I want fame and appreciation to be well-warranted and more importantly, meaningful.
That being said, a film like this really makes me ask “why?” and “what?” Why are we watching this? What was the director’s purpose? What motivated him? Was there a strict message being conveyed? What should the audience do/learn from the film? How are we expected to react?
And in order to better understand the meaning behind all this, perhaps it’d be a good idea to ask the director himself. This is the recording of Leos Carax answering questions regarding Holy Motors during a press screening at the 50th New York Film Festival. Many thought the film critiqued cinema and its ability to allow society to express itself. However, in the interview, Carax claims that the film is not about cinema, and simply uses the film as a medium to convey some message. It was somewhat interesting to hear that from the director, especially since the main character is an actor. Carax then goes onto further contradict himself by explaining that smaller cameras make the actor feel less natural. He believes that without a large camera setup, the actor’s significance can be compared to that of a YouTuber. Throughout the interview, Carax didn’t seem very interested in talking about Holy Motors, and which prompted me to for other sources that might give me more insight into his opinions.
However, after reading this piece by an editor at The Guardian regarding his interactions with Leos Carax, my hopes of ever finding an ulterior purpose faded.
“On wrapping his role in Holy Motors, Denis Lavant described the film as “a great poetic declaration of love for mankind today”. Is this how Carax sees it? “No,” he says. “But that’s OK.” He insists that it was as though he shot the film blind, walking through a dark tunnel with no end in sight. Even now, he’s not entirely sure what it is he came up with.”
It doesn’t seem like Carax himself is able to explain what exactly he saw in his film. I also found Carax’s response to the editor’s appreciation for Holy Motors to be funny –
“I tell Carax that I loved Holy Motors and he nods at the ground, endearingly unconsoled. “It’s hard to say who you make a film for,” he says. “But if you make them for anybody, I would say that you make them for dead people and then show them to living people. Every time I finish a film I expect a phone call from someone who’s seen it: ‘I saw your film, Leos, and you were right to make it.’ I don’t even know who that person would be. Just someone who would make it all OK. The dead people in my life? God?” He sucks on his cigarette. “It never comes. They never call.””
I’m not really sure what Carax meant by all this, but he definitely doesn’t seem to be making his films for any concrete purposes.
I guess this means that anything more from the film must come from the viewer’s interpretation. To me, it is a critique of our seemingly nonexistent purpose, and this message was best portrayed through the robotic, stoic, and fake nature of the characters in the film. I’m not sure what it meant to Carax though…
As a searcher this week, I thought I’d try to find some info on the mysterious director of Holy Motors, Leos Carax. I only say he’s mysterious because he famously hates talking about his work and refuses to give any sort of interview. However, after searching for an interview, I finally stumbled across one where he talks a little about why he hates interviews and interpreting Holy Motors as a whole. Here is the link. Now, in the interview, Carax explains that the artist’s role is to solely make art while “men [only] talk about art.” So, from his perspective, it is the artist’s job to provide discussion; however, whether or not they take part in that discussion, is up to them. As the interview progresses, the interviewer finally gets Carax to talk a little about Holy Motors as a film. When Carax gets asked about the totality of the film, he talks about how the world he created allows viewers to see a lifetime’s worth of experience without using classical narrative or flashbacks. He goes on to talk about how the viewer actually gets a lifetime of experiences squeezed within a day. Although this idea seems almost impossible to put on screen, Carax cleverly found a way to portray it. Through Denis Lavant’s various character roles within the film, Carax explains that we can see several, distinctly different lifestyles. For example, in the film, we see Lavant change from a rich banker to a poor begger who walks the streets, not to mention the other crazy roles Lavant plays throughout the film. Overall, I thought this interview gave me a better perspective on what to take from Holy Motors. Although the interview did not provide too much interpretation, I was able to understand some of the main aspects of the film and why they exist. This article is definitely a good read, and I definitely recommend reading it if you want to understand Carax more as a person.
One of the most interesting sources I have found for this week’s screening of Holy Motors Carax 2012) was this article and clip from The New York Times. In the clip, Carax explains a scene from the film. The scene he is talking about is the one with Mr. Oscar and Jean in the abandoned building. What I thought was most interesting about this clip is the way he describes what is happening. He describes the song, dialogue, and characters in the most literal sense, as if they do not have a deeper meaning. It was actually a bit funny listening to him because his description makes it sound like he made the most straightforward and understandable movie. I believe that he is just trying to let the viewer make their own interpretations and does not want to affect how we see his film. To me it seems like there is much more going on than two lovers catching up for the first time in 20 years, but that’s all Carax gives in his description. The rest of the article is just a review of the movie, but it ends by saying “you never know where Mr. Carax will take you and you never know what, exactly, you’re to do once you’re there.” I really connected with this part of the article because every new episode in the film kept me wondering what would happen next.
A second interesting item I found was this blog post. The blogger goes into what they believe is the deeper meaning of the film. The blog points out different ways that the film is a metaphor about cinema. One argument that stuck out to me was that it is harder to keep an audience engaged. The writer talks about needing shocks in films, like when Mr. Oscar bites off the assistant’s fingers, because “sometimes one murder a day isn’t enough”. This is also seen at the very start of the film, which opens up to a sleeping audience. I think this source makes many strong arguments towards the meaning of Holy Motors, and I recommend giving it a quick read before class tomorrow.
For my role as the searcher this week I decided to find multiple different sources that have varying options on the film “Holy Motor” because of how debate art films usually are in general. I wanted to give information for many viewpoints so that we wouldn’t just see the movie from class perspective. I have included a few articles and video commentary to give as much information and description as possible about the many interpretations of the film,
For those of you who were as confused about the movie, Holy Motors, as I was this source from the New Yorker gives a great overview of the movie and its components. One quote this summery that this article had which captured the film was “Oscar transforms the world into movies minus cameras, and Carax, unseen, supplies the camera”, because it shows the central idea of the movie. (This concept was not something that I understood from the very non-linear form that the movie story took.)
Then related to the experimental/dream like films we’ve been watching the last two weeks, this commentary provides an conception between how fluid the film is. The note about how: “Leos Carax plays with dream imagery and the way the human mind can make strange associations between things and make those associations seem very natural.” We talked of how many creators try to expand the ways we watch and think about cinema and the many different stories created in Holy Motors with their somewhat disjointed connections add to the feel of a dream like state of the film.
Leos Carax has famously been known to loath being interviewed about his work. He doesn’t want to provide interpretations about what the meanings are, which makes it interesting when we as film students are asked to interpret it. We are not as biased about what he has intended the film to be, which allows for much more interesting variations of what this film could be. There are so many storylines. characters, and connections (that are either intentional or that the audience makes up on their own) in the film that there are endless possibilities of what the purpose/meaning of film.
Even the tract of marketing and poster presentations has crafted a mystical dreamlike mood for the movie. The movie based off of the little we know from Carax and our own watching of it does connect well with the surrealist ideas. There are viewpoints that seem familiar (like the backlit movie theater) and yet confuse us along and the strange images of computer generated images. Here are some of the movie posters and title headers that seemed to have the feel of dreams and sci-fi-fi:
A motif I noticed throughout the film, Holy Motors, was the presence of mirrors and the doubling of characters. The doubling occurred either in the character’s reflection within the mirror, or more concretely in the mise-en-scene.
The mirrors are most prevalent in the limousines, where Oscar changes into each of his identities for the appointments. At times, the mirrors mediate our viewing of the character, as in the scenes within the limousine. A more atypical mirror shot occurs when Oscar’s appointment involves picking up his daughter from the party. After dropping her off at home, the camera cuts to the passenger mirror to view her reflection.
There are also a series of mirror shots when Oscar is on his deathbed with his niece, where as he enters he’s filmed through a mirror in the lobby. The niece is seen preparing herself in the mirror, and as Oscar gets up to leave there is a mirror behind him.
More subtly than mirrors, however, is the usage of doubling throughout the mise-en-scene of the film. I think the most extreme example of this is the opening scene of the spectators in the audience, providing a double of ourselves, the viewers (presuming we’re watching the film from a theater). The other prominent examples I was able to pick out include the virtual selves of Oscar and the woman in the red jump suit, Oscar preparing the body of the murder victim to mirror his, when Oscar murders “the banker” (who is dressed like Oscar at the start of the film), and when the two limousines almost get in a crash.
What do you think the role of the mirrors serves within the overarching themes of identity?
Did the doubling of characters provide a jarring effect on your viewing of the film?
How does the opening scene of the spectators in the theater tie into the mirrors/doubling that occurs?
As a closing thought, here’s an interesting excerpt regarding doubling from Freud’s essay “The Uncanny”, where he describes the uncanny effect of seeing a double of himself in his reflection of a train car window:
“I was sitting alone in my wagon-lit compartment when a more than usually violent jerk of the train swung back the door of the adjoining washing-cabinet, and an elderly gentleman in a dressing-gown and a traveling cap came in. I assumed that he had been about to leave the washing-cabinet which divides the two compartments, and had taken the wrong direction and come into my compartment by mistake. Jumping up with the intention of putting him right, I at once realized to my dismay that the intruder was nothing but my own reflection in the looking-glass of the open door. I can still recollect that I thoroughly disliked his appearance. Instead, therefore, of being terrified by our doubles, both Mach and I simply failed to recognize them as such. Is it not possible, though, that our dislike of them was a vestigial trace of that older reaction which feels the double to be something uncanny?”
Throughout the film Holy Motors (2012) by Leos Carax we are left wondering what the motivation is behind Mr. Oscar performing these various assignments as well as who is hiring these actors to perform even though at times it appears nobody is watching. As the film progresses, we realize that we are never given a true view of Mr. Oscar outside of his world of acting. The only real information we have is that he is an actor and he loves to smoke so we have no real way of identifying why he acts. He takes on many personas and acts as a wide variety of characters from a devoted father, to a motion capture actor, to an assassin. While the film does progress in a linear fashion, it maintains many of the aspects of art film. The story constantly leaves the viewer wondering who is watching? What is the motivation for Mr. Oscar to even act every day? How many of the people that Mr. Oscar interacted with were also actors and it just wasn’t shown to us because we weren’t there to watch those actors? These are all questions that I had watching the movie and I believe most of them can be linked back to the main question of what is the motivation behind this film? The man who appears in the limo with Oscar asks him if he is losing his enthusiasm for acting and even asks him the question that the whole audience is wondering, “Why does he (still) act”? Oscar replies with the answer “for the beauty of the act” to which the man replies that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what if there is nobody to watch it, then what? I believe this exchange between Oscar and the man is a direct reflection of the storyteller’s (Carax’s) motivation behind making this art film. Holy Motors isn’t intended to be a major Hollywood blockbuster that brings in a lot of money, so if money is not the motivating factor what is? I believe that the answer by Oscar directly reflects the motivation of Carax in that he wants to create a beautiful film which he has made not only for himself to enjoy but for others to see the beauty in as well. The man who states that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what if there is nobody to see it reflects the uncertainties of art film. Will the art of the act and film be appreciated if nobody is there to watch? It reflects the uncertainties of making an art film that is outside the world of mainstream film. There is no guarantee that people will see it or even hear about the film leaving the potential for the movie to die away without making any impact or being noticed. I would like to leave you with a few questions to think about. What other motivations did you notice in this film? What information about Oscar is real and what is just part of his many personas? What is the motivation of the person creating the various assignments for the actors to perform?
I’ll start by saying that my notes from this movie are all over the place, and there was a lot of profanity in them every time something different happened because I was so confused. However, I absolutely adored the movie and the confusion it caused me. As Professor Zinman mentioned, the movie never explains itself. We’re never really told why Monsieur Oscar is doing what he’s doing or what he gets out of it. He is paid at the very end of the movie from Céline, but then, as she leaves, she puts on a masks and seems as if she’s doing something she doesn’t necessarily want to be doing as well, and we don’t know why.
Every time I wanted there to be a narrative to follow, and even sometimes when I thought I had found a narrative to follow, the rug was pulled out from under me. Art cinema is often meant to cause you to think and try to “expect the unexpected.” As someone who likes to write and create (typically linear) stories through improv, I didn’t expect to like a film where I couldn’t easily follow a plot. Yet, the other aspects of the film were so enthralling that I did not care that there wasn’t a linear plot. We were able enough to follow M. Oscar from appointment to appointment, even though those did not particularly make a lot of sense. That gave me enough “narrative,” or structure really, to follow that I was able to just watch the movie for what it was, even with no real narrative.
Throughout my notes, I posed several questions to myself and to the ether as I tried to understand what was happening. Some of them include:
Are people paying to have M. Oscar do these appointments? Are they specific events they want acted out, and that’s what he does? If M. Oscar is being watched (there are references to cameras and such), to what extent is this voyeurism acceptable? Is it okay because it’s paid for and thus consented to? Was the beginning of the film’s purpose to make us, the viewers, voyeurs? What was Leos Carax implying when he had the one of the limos say, “Men don’t want visible machines anymore?” Is that a critique on the excessive use of modern technology and the societal desire to make technology simultaneously as big and small as possible (i.,e bigger screens but smaller/lighter processors)?
This is a lot of questions, but like, I loved this movie. I want to watch it again, not because I really expect to understand a lot more from it the second go round, but because I genuinely enjoyed it and the confusion it caused me.