The best actor in the best scene from the best movie of 2012.
December 2, 2012 12:08 PM   Subscribe

The French actor Denis Lavant has done some incredible things. In his latest film, Holy Motors, he plays eleven different roles, including The Banker, The Beggar Woman, the Motion-Capture Specialist, Monsieur Merde, and The Dying Man. Here, Lavant (as The Accordionist) leads a band on a stroll through the Église Saint-Merri in Paris as they perform R.L. Burnside's "Let My Baby Ride" in the film's show-stopping entr'acte.
posted by Mothlight (33 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, this movie was mesmerizing, confounding, brilliant. Best movie of 2012, indeed. See it on a big screen if you can, as soon as possible.
posted by naju at 12:15 PM on December 2, 2012

Monsier Merde!
posted by Damienmce at 12:18 PM on December 2, 2012

Goddamn, I don't know anything about the film but now I want to see it, just based on that astounding video. I said goddamn.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:25 PM on December 2, 2012

I can attest that this movie is fucking crazy.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:30 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

This movie is fucking crazy in a life-affirming, thought-provoking way, in the best tradition of Jodorowsky and Has and Denis Lavant should be given every award extant.
posted by steganographia at 12:37 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are there any explosions?
posted by newfers at 12:46 PM on December 2, 2012

I saw Holy Motors on a total whim, thanks to having an art-house theatre four blocks away from me that I pass all the time. And I am super glad I did, because it was one of the most compelling cinematic experiences I've had in years.

I went in with no idea what to expect beyond being caught by the poster and the brief description in the theatre's calendar. I dragged my ex along; he actually bothered to dig up some reviews. He said the one that convinced him this was a good idea described it as "barking mad". I would agree with that. I laughed a LOT; sadly the rest of the audience seemed to be completely quiet and reverent because it was an Important Foreign Movie or something.

There are no explosions but I did not feel that to be a lack at all.

1! 12! MERDE!
posted by egypturnash at 12:58 PM on December 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

I will never forget Denis Lavant's spasmodic thrashing dance at the end of Beau Travail. So much raw feeling, so much existential angst, so much... I don't even know how to put it into words. Just watch it.
posted by pravit at 1:10 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I saw it at the Philadelphia Film Festival, and just saw it again yesterday. The first time we had a great audience, lots of laughter, everybody having a good time. Yesterday the audience was quiet and "respectful" which was kind of shitty. Holy Motors is not a pretentious film, it is a goofy film whose goofiness is also a formal experiment.

It didn't super move me, and the few stabs it made at anything "thematic" felt forced. The acting by Lavant was terrific, and the somber bits managed to feel somber which is hard for a film this confrontational about its nature, but the funny parts worked better than the serious ones, both for me and for the two groups I went to go see it with.

I think it's interesting that this came out at around the same time as Cloud Atlas, which similarly has actors playing many, many roles over the course of a single film. I much preferred Cloud Atlas, but it's certainly the more conventional film. I'll probably recommend more people watch Cloud Atlas, but I'll absolutely force a bunch of people to see Holy Motors, because this kind of exuberant zaniness is in some ways more special than that which is merely entertaining or even moving.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:21 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ha, a youtube Lavant gorge just revealed he was the also the crazy guy from the UNKLE/Thom Yorke 'Rabbit In Your Headlights' video
posted by Damienmce at 1:25 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's a very funny film, to be sure, but there is also an undercurrent of sad loneliness to it. A sense of the pointlessness of everything. If you do a little reading about some tragedies in Leos Carax's personal life it's very tempting to start drawing parallels.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:27 PM on December 2, 2012

Holy Motors is amazing. If you have the chance to see it, you absolutely should. So many charming details that I want to call out but will refrain from doing so not because they are spoilers in the traditional sense, but are delightful little surprises.

There's an interview with Lavant here btw.
posted by juv3nal at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2012

Absolutely see this. The whole experience of viewing the film was completely pleasurable. I smiled through almost the whole thing and literally leaned forward in my seat with anticipation of what would come next.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 3:04 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

the opening scene reminded me of this.
posted by rog at 3:08 PM on December 2, 2012

the avclub gave it an A!
On its surface, this absurdist ode to analog's death at digital's hands seems to echo a number of recent essays eager to perform the last rites on cinema, or at least on its status as our dominant dream factory. Yet Holy Motors is such a bravura, go-for-broke exploration of what movies can do—is so thrillingly, defiantly alive—that it contradicts its own mournful thesis at every turn. (Critics who saw its world première at this year's Cannes Film Festival cheered with unaccustomed vigor, as if Carax had just single-handedly saved the medium.) Taking its cue from its chameleonic lead actor, Denis Lavant (best known in the U.S. as the lead in Claire Denis' Beau Travail), the film giddily reinvents itself scene by scene, suggesting infinite possibilities even as the superstructure insists they they're all heading for the same dead end. It's a glorious dream-epitaph.
(we'll see what charlie kaufman and dan harmon can do with anomalisa ;)
posted by kliuless at 3:14 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd just like to go on record that this is my favorite movie of 2012 as well.
Denis Lavant is always great, as are Leos Carax's movies.

Also I see pravit's spasmodic thrashing dance at the end of Beau Travail in the comments above and raise it with the dance scene from Les amants du Pont-Neuf.
posted by bigendian at 3:36 PM on December 2, 2012

I saw Holy Motors when it came out here in the Netherlands last summer, and I loved its range and its subversion of the movie-going experience but it was a bit too weird for my tastes: don't get me wrong, I do love me some flower-munching sewer gremlins and sudden chimpanzee families, but it's just I tend to get nervous when there's no strong over-arching plot. So I must admit that while the film made an excellent conversation piece for a week or so (I wonder how many tickets it's selling on simple word of mouth), I mostly forgot about it soon after.

But now I've just finished reading If on a winter's night a traveler, which I loved and of which I hope it's not too spoilery to say that it's a string of abandoned plots held together by a frame story about the person reading them. I've read a few comments mentioning how the book appeared to be "a meditation on the nature of reading".

If that is so then Holy Motors is most definitely "a meditation on the nature of movie-watching". Or "movie-going", rather, because I imagine it will make a lot more impact if you're forced to share the weirdness of the experience with other humans, preferably strangers.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:06 PM on December 2, 2012

I have to say that I too laughed constantly during the movie, and was about the only one in the theater laughing. I was practically in tears at points. It totally reinvigorated my joy for cinema. I'm still perplexed why no one else thought it was funny, or at least appropriate to laugh. Go figure.
posted by PigAlien at 5:24 PM on December 2, 2012

I am pretty bummed out that you are teasing me with this and there's nowhere for me to see it.
posted by theredpen at 6:10 PM on December 2, 2012

*checks for local showtimes*

posted by louche mustachio at 6:45 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I need to see this. Thanks for the heads-up.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:49 PM on December 2, 2012

I posted this quote from director Leos Carax to Facebook:
I suppose I was trying to describe the experience of being alive in the internet world. The different lives we are able to live. The fatigue of being oneself. We all get a little tired of being ourselves sometimes. The answer is to reinvent yourself, but how do you do that and what is the cost?
In the resulting discussion, I ended up thinking more intently about how and why Holy Motors works, and what makes the whole of it more than the sum of its parts, even the exposition between sequences that initially feels less vivid than the transformative vignettes. I ended up writing this, which hopefully will explain the appeal of the film somewhat to people curious about what the film is like:
It is a paean, not just to how wonderful movies ARE, but to how wonderful they CAN BE. At pretty much all points, it delights in going to someplace that, from the context the film's already given you, is more fantastic than you imagine it'll let itself going. The whole thing gets sillier and sillier as it goes on – I can't think of another movie that has ending scenes as absurd and as goofy as the two that end this one.

But it's not the sort of ultra-introverted movie navelgazing that you get from Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright, where the point of the film is in part to examine cinema's relationship to society. There are bits commenting about cameras and movie theaters, but they're not the meat of the story, they're the bones that give the meat a sense of direction.

The vignettes themselves deal really powerfully with exclusion and separation, with detachedness, with characters who in part feel themselves to be mere bodies in a space with no distinct purpose. The funny ones tend to deal with characters who are more blatantly out-of-place; the two most somber ones, which might resonate much longer with me, work around the fact that we know very well they're vignettes without context or further elaboration. There's something powerful about seeing a man assume a role of tenderness or intimacy, only to abandon it to become a blank face again, a body to fit into yet another sequence.

In a sense, it could be read as nihilistic; but the humor, I think, is so central to the film that it ultimately comes off as a warm and loving message. If the question asked is, "What meaning is there to these moments once they are over," and the answer is, "Perhaps nothing," then it's not questioning the meaning of those moments, it's proving how powerful those moments are – and they're even more powerful because they exist, they exist, and then they are gone, and they do not come back.

The struggle the main character faces, in some ways, is "What do I do?", and as he goes through each role, he is confronted with somebody who tells him that perhaps he is not as committed to the roles as he once was. Sometimes he may not even be believable. It matters that he be believed – for whose sake? Why, for the sake of the moment itself and for everybody who witnesses it. Perhaps for no other reason – but then, what other reason could there be?

There are discussions, also, about machines, which grow smaller and smaller, until they cannot be seen at all. The first time I saw the movie, I took the film at its face value and thought it was a meta-commentary, it was a discussion of cinema itself, a critique of digital in favor of film – but the director doesn't want his movie to be a film about filmmaking, and I'll take him at his word that he truly means to discuss something more. Thinking about the movie on second re-watch, I think rather that these machines fit into the greater, more universal themes of the film. Why should it matter that we see a motor, that we feel a machine's presence? Simply so that we know that it's THERE. When we're conspicuously in their presence, we are constantly aware of them, aware of their function, aware of their power. Then they disappear and perhaps we take them for granted, perhaps they stop meaning anything at all.

Which in itself is a straightforward commentary on digital cameras, on machines which move us in ways invisible to the senses. But it's also saying much, much more. The vignettes matter not because they're interesting subjects to shoot, but because they're powerful moments in their own right; if the film says something about the future of filmmaking, it's simply by reminding us that movies are about more than just going to the movies: they make things visible to us so that we can recognize, and appreciate, their movement. There's a sacredness to that showing, momentous in the literal sense that it dominates us for the moment.

It is a funny, funny film. It has moving sequences. It has several moments that simply caught my breath. But the real joy is how it puts these engaging bits together in such a strange way, so that you don't immediately recognize the nature of their movement. Until you think about each part in turn, think about how each one moved you so singularly and so self-containedly, yet how none of the sequences were either singular and self-contained, and then you see, simply, that they move.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:12 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

The trailer was intriguing enough to get me to see it.

There were several segments I really liked, including Entracte and the cemetery model shoot, but overall felt let down. There's essentially no real plot, just a series of vignettes with a single actor taking on a variety of bizarre roles. There are some hints of an underlying theme to some of the chapters, but the ending just made me feel like I'd been trolled.
posted by justkevin at 7:59 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fantastic movie. Thanks for finding the Entracte. For those who really want to dig in, here are three round-ups of reviews at Fandor: Cannes, NYFF, Round 3.
posted by muckster at 12:40 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This movie is rubbish.

And by rubbish, I mean that I saw the trailer at my local arthouse cinema, got very excited and went the next week onto their website to see when it was playing, and found it had had the shortest of short runs and had been replaced by something else and is not showing anywhere in London.

So I'm a bit gutted and will end up watching it on some tiny screen, at home.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:49 AM on December 3, 2012

I saw it during its brief London run. Extremely enjoyably mad and I wish more films like it were made but it is wild, wonderful mess rather than a masterpiece. And the entracte is the best bit.

I actually looked for this on YouTube last month but it wasn't available. Is it likely to stay up?
posted by ninebelow at 6:07 AM on December 3, 2012

Ninebelow, the film is out in France on DVD and BD and critics' screeners have been circulating in the U.S., so I'm thinking the rights holders are not as likely to go after the YouTube uploaders as they might have been when the film was brand new. If anything, this clip should push some people to go buy a ticket before it leaves U.S. theaters entirely -- that was part of my motivation for posting it, anyway! (Pepsi Blue?)

To that end, I'm sorry to hear that it's gone from the U.K., but it is still making its way around the U.S. Anyway, it's for sure one of my favorite movies of the year. So far, only Moonrise Kingdom and Amour rival it on my shortlist.
posted by Mothlight at 1:50 PM on December 3, 2012

I thought that some of the moments were brilliant. But I was going in expecting to love it as a film, and was disappointed to conclude that for me it didn't quite work.

I'm not someone who wants to see their films neatly sewn up.Unexplained context, ambiguity, unpredictable logic, meta? Especially in French? ZOMG, yes. So, I don't know what I would have wanted the film to do differently, but I wanted a wisp of something more.
posted by desuetude at 7:16 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

After reading some of the glowing comments here I was prepared to be disappointed, but I wasn't at all. I've seen plenty of movies - certainly plenty of weird art movies - but I'm not really a film buff, so I think my impression of "movies about making movies about movies" is different than many cinephiles. This movie pushed many of my extremely specific buttons - madness and the multifaceted nature of self, limousines that alter the space-time continuum and act as a portal for ultra-dimensionals that run the film industry, the vague and unsettling feeling of being a passenger, the paranoid "They", facing the double, facing death - that I was more than willing to ignore the few moments that made me cringe.
posted by Lorin at 10:06 PM on December 3, 2012

Interesting film. Priceless moments make up for times when it shoots itself in the dick. With a skip feature it was all good.
posted by yoHighness at 6:39 PM on December 4, 2012

Honest question for those who thought that parts of the movie shouldn't have been there: where did you think it "shoots itself in the dick?" Genuinely curious--I've only seen it once and was madly in love with its dreamlike logic, and without seening it at least three more times, I couldn't to tell you which parts could be skipped.

Also, no one has mentioned The Lovers on the Bridge yet, Leos Carax's fantastic 1991 film with Levant. (Link goes to Scott Tobias's entry for the new cult canon.)
posted by muckster at 11:26 AM on December 5, 2012

Oh, dear god, I just watched this film, and all I can say, is that you people who loved it....are absolutely out of your goddamn minds.
posted by newfers at 10:32 PM on December 11, 2012

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