Holy Motors

Nov 13, 2012

A strangely interesting treatise on death and acting.

Holy Motors
Grade: B
Director: Leos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge)
Screenplay: Carax
Cast: Denis Lavant (My Little Princess), Edith Scob (A Butterfly Kiss)
Rating: NR
Runtime: 115 min.
by John DeSando

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts . . .”
Shakespeare, As You Like it

Director/writer Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is as French as the baguette that sticks out of a character’s bag or the requisite shot of the Eifel Tower—it is alternately lyrical and menacing, evil and deadly, but always charming and challenging. Monsieur Oscar (Denis Levant) tours the night in a dressing-room appointed white limo. From a banker to a dying uncle, he plays several parts, all with perfect makeup and costume. All some form of Mr. Death.

In a sense Oscar is Shakespeare’s everyman, living out not his own life in stages but an evening of parts aimed at commentary on the omnipresence of death and the magnificence of acting. As a beggar he feels the sting of being ignored, cramped over ready to die. When he plays an old uncle on his death bed visited by his niece, he talks tenderly about their life together and the burden the wealth he gave her has brought. As an assassin, he is swift, but an after-murder performance will leave you perplexed.

The denouement is gratifyingly informative, lending a sci-fi flavor and some humor to an otherwise dark story. No surprise his chauffeur is not what she seems, and even Oscar’s late-night return home has a measure of strangeness.

The inclusion of songs toward the end is refreshing, as if Woody Allen had decided to have a song or two by the Seine.  Make no mistake, this enigmatic film will give you more questions than answers about the road to dusty death and the roles we play. Menacing as Mr. Oscar is, he gives a perspective that almost soothes, a little like life and death themselves.

“Because I could not stop for Death/He kindly stopped for me . . .” Emily Dickinson, Death

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel
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