Holy Motors review

A Parisian picaresque

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Indescribable. It’s not the most useful word for a film review, but Leos Carax’s return to directing frequently defies description. A Parisian picaresque, in which Denis Lavant shows just why he’s one of the best French actors alive, Carax’s playful blend of David Lynch and Lewis Carroll truly has to be seen to be believed.

Indulgent, inventive, barmy and brave, it’s a liberated light-year away from Carax’s last feature, 1999’s dour Pola X . Lavant plays the mysterious Monsieur Oscar, who begins the film departing a contented domestic scene for a day at the office. Getting into his white limo, he prepares for the first of a series of appointments.

Adopting a disguise, he transforms into an old beggar woman. You think that’s weird? His next meet sees him don black Lycra and enter a motion-capture room, performing an erotic dance with another performer.

To the delight of any Carax fan who saw his segment in 2008’s anthology movie Tokyo! , Oscar also dons the goatee and gnarled fingernails belonging to Monsieur Merde, the goblin-like sewerdweller last seen hurling grenades and terrorising passers-by.

Here, he drags a fashion model (Eva Mendes) back to his lair – a summary that doesn’t begin to convey what a jaw-dropper the scene is.

As Oscar cruises night-time Paris, each episode seems more bizarre than the last. Sadly, Carax isn’t quite able to keep the relentless energy going into the final third. By the time Kylie arrives as a fellow limo-dweller, the wheels come off, Carax’s ruminations on the nature of identity proving at best scattershot.

Still, as a loopy valentine to cinema, Paris and the mighty Lavant, Holy Motors is one hell of a ride.

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Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.