I would discourage you from watching Holy Motors. The fact that it is Not Rated should give you some notion that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. But if your curiosity overtakes you—an easy trap to fall into, given the gorgeous trippiness of the trailer—and you find yourself in Theater 8 at the Criterion, like I did, I advise you to commit to the movie once the lights go dim. You will want to leave, and you will be uncomfortable and offended, but, at the end of the long, seemingly pointless journey, Holy Motors will surprise you with its power.
Holy Motors is directed by the critically-acclaimed French filmmaker Leos Carax, who lends his middle name to protagonist Oscar (Denis Lavant). Whenever a film is so blatantly autobiographical, you know the filmmaker is being serious. Indeed, Carax is extravagant and excessive: the film involves heavy, Oscar-worthy costuming, and the plot drips with twists and turns as we watch Oscar, a professional actor of the future, don mask after mask (transforming into an old hag, goblin, or dying grandfather, for example) in what seems to be a typical work day. In Carax’s vision of the future, cameras are invisibly small, so that reality and film sets are indistinguishable, and limousines—“holy motors”—transport actors from job to job as they costume themselves for each new role.
Thanks to Lavant’s wide range as an actor, the film manages to shock in every way possible: pornographic sex involving crooked genitalia, cannibalism, the scent of potential incest and/or pedophilic violence — and manages to roll them all into one coherent satire. Though the film strikes me most immediately as a satire of cinema, it also leaves me wondering if it’s subject isn’t something broader, like religion or society at large.