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Movie review: 'Holy Motors'

Posted 1:29pm on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012

Unrated (adult material, graphic sexual images); 115 min.

The Cannes Film Festival was a staid affair this year. The movies were thoughtful and well composed, almost to a fault, exhibiting sensitivity but also a too-safe commitment to the rules of form and story.

Except for Holy Motors, an electrifying, confounding, what-the-hell-just-happened exercise in unbounded imagination, unapologetic theatricality, bravura acting and head-over-heels movie-love. Here, finally, is a film willing to take the kind of aesthetic risks we see all too rarely.

Holy Motors begins in Paris on a typical morning, when a wealthy banker named Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) greets his limo driver, Celine (Edith Scob). As they drive into the city, he disguises himself as a beggar woman, one of what will become several transformations he undergoes to keep a mysterious series of "appointments." Like an existential assassin -- or a one-man version of Cloud Atlas -- Monsieur Oscar enters into several of what seem to be pre-existing narratives in which everyone plays a part, whether it's two actors performing for motion-capture animation cameras, a satyrlike monster kidnapping a supermodel (played by knockout Eva Mendes) or a niece visiting her dying uncle.

Each vignette plays out in encounters familiar from mythology, movies and real life, as the characters hit their marks with polished, professional precision. Yet there's a wildness and ecstatic abandon to Holy Motors that proves more intoxicating as its weird dreamscape unfolds. Like David Lynch leading viewers ever deeper into an unconscious that feels deeply personal and universal, writer-director Leos Carax elaborates on well-worn truisms -- life is a performance; all the world's a stage -- but with a level of all-out experimentation and inventive staging that makes them seem brand new.

In English and French with English subtitles.

Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas

-- Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

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