The Velvet Café

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The most obscure movie of 2012

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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):

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Written by Jessica

November 14, 2012 at 8:00 am