The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The most obscure movie of 2012

with 24 comments

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

I hate dreams. Especially the ones of other people. It’s so dull that I want to claw my eyes out whenever someone starts to share them with me. And it’s the same as with people who just have become parents. They genuinely believe that you’re interested in seeing photos of their little darling and you can’t come up with some tactful way telling them that you’re really not interested.

I’ll do anything in my power to avoid listening to the endless recounts from people’s adventures in the dream world.

If someone at my job tries to initiate a conversation by the coffee machine about their imaginary visions from last night, I’ll suddenly remember an urgent phone call I needed to make and take off in a hurry.

If there’s a sequence in a book I’m reading, I’ll just browse through the pages, looking out for when the story gets back to the real world again, either it’s the world as we know it or an imagined science fiction world. All I ask for is that it’s a world where the actions of the main character matter and won’t just evaporate in thin air as soon as they wake up.

And if I’m watching a movie at home, the perfect moment to grab a cup of coffee or have a quick bio break is when the characters have fallen asleep and my dream radar sense that there’s a nonsense scene incoming. “No darling, you don’t need to stop the movie, just go on, I’ll catch up when I come back!”

Obviously there are exceptions. I love Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favorite movies. But as a general rule I find dreams in art unbearably boring, mostly because they’re completely impossible to connect to at an emotional level. The more surrealistic they are, the less do I care.

Filmed art installations
Coming from this, it would be hard for Holy Motors to catch my heart. And the odds weren’t improved by the circumstances. This was the third film in one day that I watched at the film festival in Stockholm. The first two movies had been of the experimental kind – void of anything resembling to a plot I could engage with or characters that I could relate and care about. After this warm-up I could have needed something a little more easily digested.

What I got was exactly the opposite: the most obscure film I’ve seen in a very long time. The Tree of Life seemed like a miracle of clarity and accessibility in comparison. The film consists of a number of scenes, or I should rather say “filmed art installations” not to deceive you. There’s nothing such as a character that you follow, motivations, stakes or narration. The jury is still out discussing what the film is “about” and I doubt they’ll ever agree on it considering the amount of available interpretations from film critics. But what we see is a man who spends the day in the backseat of a limousine driving around in Paris.

Throughout the day he is given assignments where he is required to put on a costume to impersonate someone else. It starts in a small case where he pretends to be a begging lady in a street, but then it movies on into stranger territories. In one scene he puts on a motion caption suit and has Cirque de Soleil style sex with a woman in a similar suit. In another scene he’s sent out to murder someone who looks like himself. And then there’s the one where he’s married to a chimp.

My favorite scene is the one where he assumes the identity of a madman, runs into a photo session in a graveyard, eats all flowers he can get hold of as well as some fingers that come in his way, hijacks the model and runs away with her into a cave, changes her dress into a niqab and then lies in her knee with his manhood (or a rubber-version that was supposed to look like the real thing) ready-to-go.

Anarchistic humor
There’s an anarchistic, absurd humor in it that has a kinship with filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Roy Andersson. However those brief moments of enjoyment weren’t enough to compensate for the fact that I found myself completely distanced from this movie. I wasn’t pulled into it, I wasn’t living, breathing, feeling the movie. I looked at it from a distance like you watch a piece of modern art. And while there’s nothing wrong about art watching, it’s not what I want from movies. I can watch a painting for ten minutes contemplating what it means and what associations it provokes. I don’t stare at the same painting for two hours as in this case. My impatience grew as the film went on and I ended up being so bored that I checked my wristwatch once every five minutes or so. When Kylie Minogue started to sing a lullaby song on the screen towards the end of the film, I started to pick my worn out strap band into pieces, hoping that the physical activity would help me remain awake. (I had had enough of slapping and pinching myself by then.)

People who are smarter than me seem to appreciate Holy Motors a great deal more, claiming it to be one of the best films of the year. They obviously see a lot of things in it that I don’t. One of the reoccurring theories for instance is that this film is a commentary on the development of cinema and they say that there’s a whole bunch of references to other movies to back it up. I have to trust those film buffs on their word, because personally I didn’t recognize a single reference. It was all far above my head.

Warmer feelings
As I left the theatre I was asking myself if this might have been the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It honestly felt like it at that very moment. It was as if the entire day had been an endless descent into obscurity, where I had become more and more miserable over time. What terrible cinematic sin had I committed to deserve this punishment of movies without meaning? I swear – I never download anything!

But after a couple of days my feelings towards Holy Motors have become a little warmer. Just a tiny little bit. Mind you, I still didn’t enjoy watching it. But I have to admit that it stands out in my memory pretty vividly, and that must count for something. It lingers in my mind, either I like it or not.

It’s possible – or even likely – that if I read a bunch of essays about the movie and then rewatched it, I might if not love it – at least respect it more. However I doubt that I’ll ever be able to bring myself to do that.

If I want to see beauty and mystery there’s an abundance of it in the world as it is. I don’t need to go to the dream world to look for it.

The Guide and I into that hidden road
Now entered, to return to the bright world;
And without care of having any rest

We mounted up, he first and I the second,
Till I beheld through a round aperture
Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear;

Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, FR 2012) My rating: 2/5

Some of my colleagues in the Swedish network Filmspanarna also watched Holy Motors.  Here’s what they made of it (in Swedish):

Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord
Jojjenito
Fiffis Filmtajm
Har du inte sett den
Fripps filmrevyer

Written by Jessica

November 14, 2012 at 8:00 am

24 Responses

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  1. Your grade from your point of view is almost as strange as mine and I like that. It’s a very peculiar film and it’s impossible to understand but I think people will try for ages to come.

    Fiffi

    November 14, 2012 at 8:42 am

    • I’m not sure what you mean by my grade. You think the post is more negative than the rating or the opposite, that the post is more positive than the number? Ratings are always difficult. But I think that a movie that leaves such vivid images lingering in your mind deserves a little more than the lowest.

      Jessica

      November 14, 2012 at 10:20 am

  2. It is a very strange film. It’s spectacular. I don’t understand it, but that makes it more intriguing to me. It might be a sequence of dreams, it might be something different. I thought it was a story of a death angel of some kind. Maybe.

    Henke

    November 14, 2012 at 10:09 am

    • I don’t expect all movies I watch to be straight-forward stories following the standard formula. I like movies that go for something different, and I don’t mind if a movie leaves me slightly puzzled with something more to chew on for the days to come. But in this case it was a little bit too incoherative for my enjoyment. They lost me on the way.

      Jessica

      November 14, 2012 at 10:23 am

  3. This really seems to be dividing opinion. Some think it’s the best film they’ve seen in years whilst others reckon it’s some over indulgent nonsense. I was kinda intrigued to see it, but i’m not gonna go out of my way to track it down. Nice review.

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    November 14, 2012 at 10:18 am

    • Thanks. To be fair, so far I’ve almost only seen raving reviews about it. And while I didn’t care much for it, I wouldn’t advice anyone against seeing it. It’s not a movie that leaves you completely indifferent. You’ll definitely have something to say about it afterwards. And that’s a good thing if you’re a blogger. 🙂

      Jessica

      November 14, 2012 at 10:21 am

  4. We seem to be on an extraordinarily equal footing, from the hating-the-dream-cop-out to the miniscule warming towards the whole thing. The singing felt totally out of place, it was wrong whereas the chimps for example was just weird.

    Sofia

    November 14, 2012 at 10:27 am

    • Indeed. The chimps made me smile too, but the singing gave me nothing. Some of the scenes are visual candy, but some kind of storyline wouldn’t have hurt.
      I’m a little bit curious about the director though. I havent’ seen anything by him before. I’d like to see what he can do with a material that actually has a story. I imagine not all of his movies are like this.

      Jessica

      November 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

      • Maybe you should try Les amants du Pont-Neuf (De älskande på Pont-Neuf) from 1991? As far as I remember it had a distinctive storyline and Denis Lavant starred in that one too, with Juliette Binoche.

        Sofia

        November 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm

  5. Agreed on basically everything here, right down to the grade (2/5). I did like two scenes (The Accordian + Closing scenes) which saved me from hating it completely.

    Alex Thomas

    November 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    • Hehe, the closing was fun, even though I once again had no idea of how it connected to anything else in the film. I liked the goblin in the green costume and the accordian player was a nice piece of refreshment halfway through the film.

      Jessica

      November 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm

  6. Ahh, you state a good case, and from what I gather, I guess you were predisposed to not liking this one from the start. I’m curious have you seen/liked any of David Lynch’s films?

    Just want to add, that Kylie scene was one of the saddest moments I’ve seen all year; knowing that that was Carax’s way of saying goodbye to his own wife, who took her own life last August.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    November 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    • I’m a big fan of Twin Peaks (including the second season, which people love to hate on). As of his other productions I’m not sure if I’ve seen anything else. I might have seen something of his earlier works, but I don’t remember a thing of it in that case, so it doesn’t matter. Considering my love for TP I probably should dive into his works.
      Thanks for the information about Kylie’s scene. I didn’t know about that. It certainly adds another dimension to it.

      Jessica

      November 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm

  7. Great review Jessica. As much as it wasn’t your kind of thing. I think I might actually like this. I’m a great believer in the power of dreams and their interpretation. I never ignore any ive had and on occasion find them to be quite prophetic. That aside, any films concerning them always intrigue me. If I could get my hand on this film, I’d give it a go.

    Mark Walker

    November 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    • Thanks Mark! I can imagine you being a little bit more openminded towards dreams than I am and it’s very much possible that you’ll appreciate it more than I did. And actually I wouldn’t advise anyone against seeing it, even if I in the end gave it a low rating. If nothing else it is quite special.

      Jessica

      November 14, 2012 at 9:59 pm

  8. I don’t think it’s surrealistic and dreamy as much as just plain random. And he is far from the first director to be random so he does not get a pass from me :/.

    johanbenjaminsson

    November 15, 2012 at 12:18 am

    • But dreams are pretty random, aren’t they? Anyway we agreed about the conclusion.

      Jessica

      November 15, 2012 at 7:36 am

  9. We are on the same page with this film. I was getting into it at the start, but then it gradually lost me. Shame.

    Squasher88

    November 18, 2012 at 6:38 am

    • Judging from the critical response most people seem to find their way through it or not be bothered by the obscurity. I’m glad that I’m not the only to be at a loss about it.

      Jessica

      November 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm

  10. I love how critics have labeled this movie as “profound”. Holy Motors isn’t innovative unless you think a collection of short films is a radical concept. Each one deteriorates into a non-ending. I was unimpressed by the whole exercise as well. I posted a review as well you’re interested.

    Mark Hobin

    December 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    • “A collection of short films” is actually a good way to discribe Holy Motors. A couple of them were intriguing. Especially the man in the green costume eating flowers in a churchyard. I still can’t get him out of my head even though I have absolutely no idea of what it meant. But most of the shorties didn’t give me a lot tbh. Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough to figure it out. Anyway, I’m glad to see a soulmate in this. I’ll check out your review.

      Jessica

      December 10, 2012 at 10:38 pm

  11. Seen it last week after seeing it got a 3.5 rating from Ebert. Man, was I disappointed. First movie in over a year that I stopped watching after an hour. I’ll have to finish it some day but I really didn’t feel like continuing.

    carrandas

    January 10, 2013 at 12:37 am


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