Leos Carax, the French writer and director of the wondrous and wicked Holy Motors, has met the challenge of filming the visions dancing and dueling inside his own internally exploding head. Love him or hate him, Carax does Carax brilliantly. From 1984’s Boy Meets Girl and 1991’s Les Amants du Pont-Neuf through his last film,1999’s hugely divisive Pola X, Carax goes his own artful way with a talent that makes up its own rules.
Holy Motors swept me up in its surreal landscape of film genres by the sheer force of Carax’s devotion to cinema (he’s a former film critic). The great Denis Lavant, a Carax muse and an actor of shimmering physical grace, takes on a dozen roles, male and female. As Monsieur Oscar, Lavant begins his work in Paris by climbing into a white stretch limo chauffeured by loyal Celine (a mesmerizing Edith Scob). Each stop will require Oscar, with the help of wardrobe and makeup in the back seat, to transform himself into a variety of characters – a tycoon, a gypsy beggar, a ninja warrior. You get the picture. Even if you don’t, you’ll be transported by Lavant as Monsieur Merde, a sewer troll who kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes) from a fashion shoot in Pere-Lachaise cemetery, or as an assassin sent to kill his own double, or – in a rush of pure romantic yearning – a man reunited with a former amour (Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue) in a deserted department store that becomes the setting for a musical interlude of surpassing loveliness. Minogue’s singing of the emotive “Who Were We,” co-written by Carax, makes a gorgeous coda to a movie that’s drunk on its own movie love. Don’t be afraid to leap into the wild blue of Carax’s untamable imagination. Holy Motors, fueled by pure feeling, is a dream of a movie you want to get lost in. It’s a thing of beauty.