A Paradox and an oddity. “Holy motors” shames Hollywood


After the first screening of “Holy Motors” at the Cannes Festival and a short silence and few whistles that followed the audience rose and started to applaud. And this went on for quite a long time.

““Holy Motors” by Leos Carax is bizarre and wonderful at the same time, ambitious and weird – bordering with madness I would even say” – wrote Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian. The critics from other media unanimously hit the same tunes. Variety branded the French film “complete lunacy”, The Hollywood Reporter “sheer madness”. Indiewire perceived it as a mixture of Luis Buñuel and Jean-Luc Godard. Paradoxes multiply not only in the reviews but also within the film itself.

Similarly to New Wave artists, Carax rejects all conventions. As soon as his route starts to resemble a one the audience is already familiar with, he immediately takes the nearest exit and makes for the unknown. There is no classical narration and no clearly defined central characters. After “Reality”, “Holy Motors” is the second attempt at tackling the subject of reality shows, albeit not as direct. In contrast to Matteo Garrone, Leos Carax does not venture to describe the TV genre but shoots a sample episode of one.  A surreal picture by the French director appears to be – as Tadeusz Sobolewski phrased it – “live cinema, as if there were no cameras”.


This however is not the end of avant-garde therein. The main character of the film, Oscar, is a personification of the whole institution of cinema as such. Becoming different characters himself he constitutes a metaphor of a cinema goer who identifies him/herself with subsequent screen heroes depending on current picture-show. Carax takes a stand on progressive digitalisation of life. The message is very close to us and at the same time – rather paradoxically – expressed through frequent references to the classics. Even to the most remote one as the film begins with a recording from before the Lumiere brothers’ invention. For the French director, silent film is not only still much to date but just as well unattainable.

A year ago the critics either cheered or nagged at “The Tree of Life” by Terrence Malick, a decade earlier he same controversies were sparked by “Dancer in the Dark” by Lars von Trier. “Holy Motors” takes a step further in crossing boundaries of what is normal. The controversial work may be either loved or hated. It will not however leave the viewer indifferent.

Dawid Rydzek