If Leos Carax, the enfant terrible of the Nouvelle Vague band of auteurs, were to tell you a straightforward story, you’d most likely disbelieve him. Anybody familiar with his work knows this guy flip narratives seven ways to Sunday before you can muster any sense of comprehension. He’s a Gallic David Lynch, only less prolific but equally a maverick, with a delirious and unhinged approach to cinema that would render any Lynch film a Spielbergian-level of predictability.
Previously, he had Guillaume Depardieu descend from bourgeois respectability into a grim, impoverished beneath-the-gutter hell in his much-maligned Pola X, whilst serenading the downward spiral with a grunge rock orchestra playing out an acoustic fusillade in a warehouse. In his recent work for the last thirteen years, Holy Motors, he had his cinematic muse Denis Lavant (dazzling, mesmeric, poignant) emerge from a white stretch limousine nine times as he is being chaperoned around Paris, portraying different characters each time her comes out. That’s more hardcore thespian work than even Meryl Streep can muster in possibly a decade.
In Carax’s world, everything almost happens in real-time. He embellishes a cyclical narrative, establishing Lavant as Oscar, an actor-cum-performance-exhibitionist, gliding around Paris in various ‘appointments’ driven by an icy Edith Scob (the woman behind the mask in Georges Franju’s seminal French horror Eyes Without A Face) – from gypsy beggar to a motion-capture artist simulating dragon sex on a green screen (this is merely warm-up), to an old, world-weary father, a dying uncle and most bizarrely, a sewer-dwelling leprechaun-like creature Monsieur Merde, who kidnaps Eva Mendes from a fashion shoot, licks her armpit, dresses her up in burka, all the while professing an erection as he lies on her lap, pieta-like position. ‘Barking mad’ doesn’t even cover it.
It barely makes any shred of sense, of course – and yet it remains stunning and compelling. For all its absurdity and abstraction, Motors is mainly a film about performance, a cine-literate essay on acting itself and embodying roles as a consuming profession. The film succeeds mainly credit to Lavant’s extraordinary chameleonic performance (this man can impersonate anything or anybody, possibly including Meryl Streep) and Carax’s wilful and skilfully pitched direction. There’s a sequence dripping with such aching melancholy when Kylie Minogue appears in a Jean Seberg-esque cameo, singing her lungs out to Who Were We?, contemplating on love lost, regret, identity and death in an empty baroque department store. It’s a quietly powerful sequence that summarises Carax’s thesis – the self-consuming art of performance. It’s also pure cinema, a scene recalling one of Jacques Demy’s French musicals – sad, heartbreaking yet gloriously cinematic.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Leos Carax | CAST: Denis Lavant, Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes, Edith Scob | SCREENPLAY: Leos Carax | PRODUCER: Pierre Grisse Productions | RUNNING-TIME: 115 mins | GENRE: Drama/Arthouse | COUNTRY: France