© 2012 by James Clark
We’ve now hit the Christmas Red Zone and, as promised, here’s a movie right for the season—one that hasn’t come close to being a Christmas classic (in fact having come to light only this year), and perhaps never will. (Please hold that thought, as to a Santa being scourged by a Scrooge.)
It’s a bouncy little thing, veering amongst a blizzard of seemingly disparate eventuation; but I think it knows very well where it’s headed. It has a protagonist who peels off into about a dozen other protagonists—sort of like dealing with Christmases Past and To Come. And that’s only the beginning of an elusiveness that sharply compromises its chances of becoming another Nutcracker.
The eminence behind this puzzling gift, Leos Carax, is far from a precious and naive obscurantist—having in fact a track record of substantially (and yet unrewardingly) juicing up the riveting but essentially invisible discoveries of Robert Bresson. And he generously casts a bright beam upon the workings of his tale, so as to allow us to tread forward without (completely) falling from the steep cliffs his seismic invention shoots up into our face.
There is a moment, late at night, when the white limousine carrying our main man, Oscar, through the streets of Paris bumps into another such vehicle, causing the two privileged passengers to notice one another and acknowledge that they have an intense history together stretching back a long while. This minor accident and major encounter occurs on the Right Bank, near the Pont Neuf, right outside of a former grand department store, named, La Samaritaine (The Samaritan). The nocturnal drive immediately preceding the collision is noteworthy in its characteristic range of both ponderous material factuality and historical volatility, as playing into the difficult adventure of incidents. Oscar notices, amidst the gloom, a pronounced rural woodsiness (mainly saplings), then tomb-like ancient domiciles becoming ominously contorted, where in fact cement and brick are the order of the day, and he hears attenuated, mournful cries (sort of like those in the Dickens classic). The scene of the rude encounter is at the foot of an ancient street, known for eons as La rue de l’arbre sec (Street of the Dry Tree), a name deriving from its having been the medieval precinct where the gallows were located. (I have a special fondness for this street, as we have very good friends working and living there. More to the point, its familiarity facilitates assimilating the peculiar blend of ancient, aching beauty and muddled newness.) The woman from the other car says, “I’ve got thirty minutes to be with you. Do you have thirty minutes?” On finding that he does—his body language in fact showing (like hers) a rapt desire to spend a lot more time than that—she says, “Come with me,” goes to a corrugated metal buffer at the old store, and knocks, after which she is given free rein by a workman, and they are suddenly engulfed by tier upon tier of Art Nouveau railings sending hushed (and doomed) perfection into the darkness. Oscar says, “I once came here to buy you bras…” and we therewith fall in with the depiction of struggle to distil loving poetry in face of material prose. “You were always kind,” she adds, bending to that exigency.
Oscar becomes troubled, and feels compelled to say, “I had to leave… I didn’t have time to explain…” Many broken manikins are strewn about, lending an aura of a battlefield. “Probably we will never see each other again,” she observes, and we are thereby gently eased toward a gentle tale we’ve seen somewhere before. (Umbrellas do not obtrude here, but it is, after all, a retail outlet.) Proceeding upstairs, she becomes faint, and Oscar gallantly carries her in his arms. (In that earlier story, an underwhelming Lancelot shored up a fading Genevieve.) Coming to a landing, the intense sadness of her presence very naturally holds forth in song, a song to touch him (and us), a song in the Demy/Legrand register (assured, touching, but being dragged off course). Here’s what she sings, wandering about in the dusty, cavernous confines, flickering into our questioning like a rather tired moth. “Who were we? Who were we?/ When we were who we were, back then?/ Who would we have become/ If we’d done differently, back then?/ I have a feeling, the strangest feeling…/ There was a child, a little child…/ We once had a child!/ We called her…/ And so we had to go, and wander so very far away/ Love has turned to monsters and yearned to be found apart…/ No new beginning…the lights are lower…” They come out to the ruin’s roof, its quaint, weathered signage nearly overwhelmed by the loveliness of a Paris night—the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame glowing with an insistence the emotional tenor of the lost lovers cannot begin to measure up to. He tells her, “There’s something you can’t know… about us…” Leaving that excruciating, nebulous and dark thought to drift far above the City of Light, he seems totally drained of the episode’s initial attentiveness, and listens impassively to her saying, “Yes, time is against us.” (She had indicated that she was to be on a film set there very soon, with her husband expected at any moment.) He touches her hand and then draws away. At the doorway back down, he waves, and she waves back. No new beginning. On actually accessing the stairs, he crosses closely in front of the camera, clouding it with nearly inert matter, his footsteps banging. After he leaves, she goes close to the edge of the roof, takes off her shoes—the river and the bridge and a pedestrian clearly visible and bringing aboard Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer—and then she makes her way to the very edge, and she calls to her children to come near. Oscar narrowly avoids running into her husband on the stairs; and by the time he reaches the street both of them are sprawled bleeding on the pavement. He gags, screams and hurls himself into his limo. Before plummeting down, she had taken off her trench coat, revealing her costume as an airline hostess, named, Eva Grace. Before it is over, Holy Motors will impress with amazing bravura the virtual impossibility of effective flight, cogent grace.
With the song and its burden of false steps (tracing out to a nearly forgotten treasury of filmic reflection), and with the setting being a panoply of dead weight and decomposition, we have gained access to the film’s center of gravity. Its affair with dynamics, however, being cinematic, and therewith a matter of drama or intention, we are obliged, in order to assimilate precisely what the film has to offer, to seriously accompany its protagonist as not having a peculiar and photogenic moment, but a day like all days. Hence we come back to that metaphorically radioactive old store in order to trace networks of filmic initiatives that prime our journey with Oscar. The flight attendant manqué is a recent edition of another sensitive young hopeful crashing into the street, namely Bresson’s eponymous, Gentle Woman; and it is the well-defined slant of her depression that we must seize here, because its physics, however truncated, weaves through the instances of toppling tearing through the whole scenario. The woman in question demonstrates an obsession with the idea that the elements of human life are also basic to beasts and plants, the differences between such entities being merely variations of structural design. Love has turned to monsters. As we are about to note, Oscar goes a long way down the zoological pike; but it never occurs to him to stop travelling. The motors he has in view, however wretchedly, are holy motors. Thus alerted, we address the big old wreck on the street of multiple deaths in terms of that Francophile out on a precarious Hollywood limb, namely, David Lynch, and his invention of a cavernous space where a singer collapses from a surfeit of sadness (crying) and love dies for a Belle and a Bête—Club Silencio, in Mulholland Drive. The discovery here of unwanted Samaritan, Lynch, and his melancholy gifts (we’ll only note in passing that the actress playing Eva wears a pixie-cut blonde wig that makes her resemble the Belle who heads for the exit, i.e., Betty, a.k.a., Diane [putting Oscar into some semblance of the auteur role of Adam], but also the actress/suicide, Jean Seberg [Eva, in fact being named, Jean]) had been in fact compellingly prepared by the film’s opening scene. While complete darkness lingers, following the credits, we hear a man cry out, “No! No! No!” Then we see him get out of bed in the middle of the night, push through a wall (papered with images of leafless, dry trees) and, accompanied by a little dog in the mode of Uggy, who clearly lacks an Oscar-winning personality, enter at the balcony level a run-down, red-plush theatre—no need to be explicit about what it’s a dead-ringer for—whose clientele are zapped to the last hipster—and whose aisles feature a nude toddler (Is there a future? The barrel of No’s suggests it’s much in doubt) and a hefty bloodhound, getting nowhere regarding decisive discovery. This wiry, middle-aged figure is played by Carax, himself, who morphs into Oscar (played by Carax’s alter ego, Denis Lavant, likewise middle-aged and wiry), heading off from his posh, Bauhaus-inspired residence, to do what he does. (Carax’s voracious coverage of this issue reaches even so far as to evoke the Bauhaus residence of Lynch, prominently displayed in the first segment of Lost Highway. To cite another, truly athletic and historically inclusive action—Carax leaving no stone unturned which might ignite for the viewer the crisis of consciousness consuming him—this limo-salient saga frequently takes us through the City’s network of tunnels, and their noisy, tailgating, rather stressful plunge, where the aura of another dead Diane, the Lady Di, confronts us.)
On being horrified by the corpses on the ancient road, Oscar goes on to savor his home and family, at the end of an astonishingly rigorous round of conflict, mayhem and death. That he does not return to the Bauhaus mansion and its rather giddy domesticity is but one instance of serving notice that the pragmatic features of his situation constitute a platform for his real vocation of virtually non-stop moonlighting on behalf of surrealistic payoffs. The Cowboy had combatively declared to Adam, “You must not be interested in the good things of life.” Holy Motors is an Apache ambush of defiance toward that priority, an insurrection built up upon a pretext of discharging a lucrative investment banking concern. Soon after hitting the open road, Oscar phones in what seems to be the extent of money management for the day: “187% at 5009…Indexed…indexed…” That leaves him and his enigmatic consort and chauffeur, Celine, a 16-hour day of wheeling and dealing apropos of the truly profitable opportunities of moving and shaking (a process of both introspection and sensual acting out, covered by the film in having the banker’s limo serve as a huge make-up and props centre). The last shake of the tail for the day, “going home,” reaches an avenue of identical, squat, but architecturally alert, cement cottages, putting us in mind of the Arts and Crafts cottages, in one of which Diane’s shot away and decomposing body is discovered, an event which severely unnerves Rita, but not to the point of suicide. Celine has provided him with some kind of theme for the drama to come, and, on parking the incongruous charger, hands him the key to one of the units. “See you tomorrow,” she crisply signs off, and then she drives away. As Oscar approaches his front door, he hears a man’s voice singing (perhaps a neighbor, perhaps not); and, after following him all day, we know the subject would be dear to his heart. “We would like to live again/ But then we’d relive the same lives/ Make the same steps as always/ To reach a point of no return./ Our time has not come to rest/ We’ll dive only more into the same, cold, liquid days/ Having our lives to relive/ Live/ Relive./ Our life is the sap rising in us/ But it cannot be/ No, it cannot be.” The neighbor could be Lynch himself, a major exponent of appetitive, irresolute lives tracing endless, identical returns of futile careers. Or it might be a recording by, or in the style of Yves Montand. Yves Montand? On the drive to this site, a shaken Oscar had asked Celine to come back to where he was, where they could dance a “slow dance.” She had declined the invitation, though insisting that once she was a professional dancer. This bit of aged romance has a savor recalling Jacques Demy’s Three Seats for the 26th, where Montand spends a pleasant afternoon dancing slowly with an old flame, and singing songs of philosophical resignation. It is the delicacy of that comportment which especially holds us here, where the (supposed) horror of bestial inertia has racked up big victories. Oscar calls out to his wife, and a chimpanzee lopes into view. He gives her a kiss, and they leave the room to see their children. There they all are, at a bedroom window (ominous Lynchian conflagration tingeing the ceiling), peering at the world, and their eyes touch us with a longing for the gear of holiness, as adumbrated by the dynamic cycles of holy motors.
There is a scene, near the beginning, where the road show lingers at a power plant. As it happens, the wild and woolly goings on there constitute a research prototype for the pros and cons of sensual-dynamic operation, and thereby a penetration to the physical roots of those elaborative dramas filling the day with tailspins both mawkish and noble. Oscar dresses up in a spandex wet suit with accessories to simulate an electron cloud. Entering a darkly composed room in the large, machine age shell, as rebooted for digital payoffs, he goes into a warm-up of sorts, featuring vigorous and precise lunges, twists and back flips. Though the moves are accomplished, the metallically appointed site accentuates the heaviness of his landings, an echoing feature which imposes upon us an oppressive inertia. On Oscar’s having established this unstable mastery, a woman appears, her red skin-tight covering matching his black attire, and they immediately explore the erotic and animal dominance aspects of the situation. Both exponents are gymnast-supple and much arresting oral sex whips up, the intense breathing for which being suggestive of a machine about to blow up. Whereas in his preliminary seeking out the hidden springs of motion, he races along a treadmill, firing off rounds from a machine gun, and slips into the thread of an arcade game, before being defeated by the demands upon his body and toppling to the floor, in the second, more complex launch, the traces of love lighting their lust and its combativeness become obviated by computer graphic animation of eel-like creatures wielding enormous genitals, their delighting groans becoming otherworldly, violently assertive growls.
This nightmarish and yet stunningly magnetic passage sets up an MRI-like navigation point for seeing our way clear to the compellingness of wave after wave of Oscar’s torturing himself in entering upon interactions being tasked with divulging a way beyond cheapening violence. He plays the part of a father, driving over (in something far less grand than the limo) to the condo where his early teen-aged daughter was departing her first party on her own. Treating his “Angel” to a cream puff hidden in the glove compartment, he becomes testy on finding her debut was less than kick-ass—“You’ll be attractive, all right! Like your mother!” He then flashes to the surface one of several of the film’s results of introspection so right on the money we’re left aghast that he can’t do anything with it. “You’re not easy-going enough!” Showing us that he suffers from the same impediment, on catching her fibbing about one of her friends, he goes so far as to say, “You’ve let me down, Angel…Terribly!” On her wondering about her punishment, he tears into her more in the register of a divorce than a familial give-and-take. “Your punishment is to be you. You have to live with yourself. Now get out, please.” Both coming and going here, Oscar, the outdated dad, braces himself with a World Music ditty that seems to carry with it the backstreets of the Congo. “Time to get home! Time to get home! Time to get home!” is the verbal content, and the emotive factor appears to be indebted to someone’s kick-ass granny. Carax is like Demy and Lynch in many ways; but we should especially savor his second-to-none acuity in deploying popular music to carry themes straight into the bloodstream. The pathological edge to that dad’s favorite song has been so acutely pedigreed we come away slightly bruised by it, as if by a grotesque dead weight. On returning to the less suburban car model, he’s manifestly disgusted with himself, and an intermission break becomes urgent. Oscar’s backstage run at being easy-going is put across with a level of mastery that clearly sets in relief how divided an intent can be. We have a gypsy-like protagonist/musical director, going (like Charles, in The Devil, Probably) for sublimity in a deserted church at night, by means of playing his accordion with a shredding of the air similar to the growls giving one, but only one, boost to the power plant. Soon he’s joined in his march of conquest by many other accordionists, a guitarist and some percussion. At first the impression is back woodsy smash and grab piety, and thereby creepy and ridiculous. (He urges the solemn merry men on to new heights, with a reignition cue, “3, 2, Shit!”) But the marching band does, all those strikes against it notwithstanding, eke out from the midst of this mess some cogent energy that leaves us more confused than enlightened. We don’t have to wait long to see that Oscar is no more transformed than we are by this flailing about. He works out some cosmetic scars in the big white home base, puts himself into the story of a switchblade fighter out for revenge (to grab onto some bathetic self-aggrandizement) and swaggers through the garage level of an Oriental wholesale food depot (in homage to that master of sustaining mood, Wong Kar Wai). He meets and stabs his enemy in the throat, places the same network of scars on the bleeding man’s face, shaves his head to bring him to an identical appearance, then in turn receives a “fatal” wound, also in the throat, and the two of them lie writhing and reddened—history in the form of myriad, completely interchangeable savages. (As Carax well knew, this was the phenomenon of inertial defeat Lynch brought to bear in Mulholland Drive. This particular instance of research and reverie seems—in the current of choppy reflective weather pelting down (Oscar stagger’s back to Celine, while a Hong Kong style torrential downpour does its worst)—steeled to see the worst. Recall that Betty, for all her cowardice, was a far more nuanced contender than Diane.)
So now it’s time to engage, in contradistinction to the dead ends just touched upon, the rough day’s nice little finds, confirming the twinkle in the eyes of Oscar and his surreal family. After a sushi lunch (raw meat that meets refined, discerning taste), Oscar gets to the meat of this day by, first of all, applying a membrane of distressed facial skin, a glass eye and a shock of matted black hair, then scrambling from the executive zone and quickly prying open a sewer cover and, after some catching up with ravens circling there, he plunges downwards, nineteenth century melodramatic theatre incidental music adding to our bemusement. To temper his surface presence as a pint-sized Quasimodo, there is his inquiry to Celine, “Any cases in the forests, today?” On hearing they’re staying in the constantly trying Capital, he’s disappointed. “I miss forests…” And we might recognize in this that his little monster thrust here graphically falls short of the rich expansiveness of the precedent he and Celine and their magic white horsepower struggle to attain—with each opening of that door so far removed from the horseflesh, a Pandora’s Box comes ajar, and who knows what will follow? Down in the stone pathways of the ancient sewer, we don’t have crying corpses, but instead a steady parade of lost souls trudging forward at a point already close to a joyless oblivion. Speaking of pointless motion, Oscar surfaces at Père Lachaise Cemetery, where tourists abound, eager to see Jim Morrison’s tomb, and those of other powerful celebrities from many walks of life. Jim was probably a special person to Valentin, the hit man hired by Charles to kill him at that last abode of heroes, in The Devil Probably, since the optics-savvy wastrel replicated the outer image of the songster of fire to quite an accurate degree. (Charles’ attempt to drown himself in Edwige’s bathtub is another nod to the young rebel.) Now it’s clear right from popping that sewer cap that Oscar does not share the consensus of celebratory awe and preening agitation that pervades the walkways rolling through the shrine. He rather spastically (don’t tell me he’s looking for his inner idiot!) stutter-steps along like a mischievous monkey (or devil), grabbing flowers from graves and gobbling blossoms and spitting them out, a process that sends a bolt of panic through the vacationers. Coming to a particularly elevated, ornate and noticeable tomb, where a smoulderingly beautiful brunette model of Latino lineage has been positioned in the course of a fashion magazine shoot, he pushes to the front of a crowd luxuriating in the momentousness of it all, and, puffing furiously on a cigarette taken from the mouth of someone nearby, twisting his shoulders as if he were a hunchback, and glaring (with his one eye) like a crow toward the Beautiful People, we know right away he’s not a Facebook friend (some of the tombstones being inscribed, “Please visit my site…”). No, the angry little man clearly reveals himself to be the antithesis of rake-like, faddish and suicidally passive Charles. Coinciding with his delivery of an incorrigible Beast, we have (in tennis whites) the star American photographer in charge of this slice of top-dog sublimity, calling out like a precocious high-schooler (or an over-aged Art Garfunkel, whom he resembles), “Beauty! Beauty! Beauty! Beauty!” On being apprised that someone in the studio audience has not been properly vetted, the artiste, perhaps priding himself on Bohemian boldness, pontifically calls off the security alert the better to bring to his fans one of those unexpected thrills they’ve come to expect. Smiling a wicked little smile (this is Paris, after all), he calls for his Hasselblad and snaps away, all the while masticating, “Weird! Weird! So weird!” (This self-satisfied arbiter of mainstream judgment, an ongoing enactment of the Midas touch, brings to mind the Cowboy, in Mulholland Drive, laying down the law of easy money to fractious but easily intimidated Adam.) While the unscheduled profit taking noisily whirls about, we see the model, as always, rooted in the noncommittal chic of her amazing cheekbones and ambiguously generous mouth. But we notice a trace of glee in those big, dark eyes. The master of these graveyard ceremonies, that have the feel of ending badly, consigns his young, Ivy League interne (the only French speaker in the crew) to firm up the windfall project. “Tell him we’ll put his picture in a magazine and give him money.” She protests, “Harry, he’s disgusting!” But references are references (about the same outlook a far more idealistic Betty had, performing that tacky scenario in Mulholland Drive), and she walks uncomfortably up to Oscar, seemingly frozen by the enormity of attention by so many of his betters. “Mr. Harry T-Bone, the famous photographer doing a project, with the famous model. Kay M, for Wave Magazine, thinks you’d be perfect as a study of deviant energies… Have you heard of Diane Arbus?” (Another suicide, another Diane.) On emphasizing the thrill of the situation, her hand drifts rather close to Oscar, who quickly bites off several of her fingers, spitting them and much blood into the air, scrambles to the enthroned Beauty, licks her upper breast and armpit (leaving them covered with blood); but that fails to frighten her. He hoists her onto his shoulder, and lopes for the exit, sending T-Bone into what he regards as the appropriate vocabulary. “God! God! God! God!”
Oscar manages to lug that very tall woman down to the sewer; and there amidst some pretty unpoetic influences his far from promising insurrection comes in for, if not remarkable encouragement, remarkable new directions. He staggers in the very weak light with his load (she providing no resistance to a captivity she couldn’t be used to), and they come, by way of a dark and dirty ancient wall, to a stone bench where he places her down, and they both sit there in some kind of reverie, he a bundle of rags, she splaying her long legs, with her thighs exposed. The sense of relief in their bodily presence is a startling surprise. Then suddenly he grabs the golden purse she had hung onto, as if she were off to a rendezvous for drinks. He dumps out the contents, grabs a package of cigarettes and a lighter and the flame won’t come. She, impassive as if absorbed with a much more comprehensive strike, reaches from that stage to the somehow equally dramatic little snag, lights his fire and he takes a long drag. He begins to address her in some kind of niche language, the communication largely consisting of imploring squeals, and then more imperious, demanding impingements. In a flash he rips away from her dress a swatch of silk fabric, producing from that, with his claw-like finger nails, a scarf, which he carefully places in such a way as to cover the top of her head. Seemingly pleased with that softening, domesticating of the model’s comportment in close accordance with her role in the shoot as Diana (yes) the chaste Huntress, he goes on to fashion from the (only introductory) shawl a burqua, placing it over her head, while her remarkable eyes burn outward with considerable force. He squeals out some puzzling directive, and they begin to walk in the semi-darkness along the rude walls, giving us a shot of the seventh century. He brings the ceremony of dominance to a halt, orders her to get the hell out of there, watches her disappear into blackness, screeches something and she returns (striding in such a way as to suggest she might trample her tiny master), to the stone bench. He tears off his clothes, revealing his erection, scrambles onto her lap (all the while emitting noises we would subsequently recognize as close to those coming from his family of chimpanzees), and as he spreads petals from the shoot over his chest he acts like a fretful baby in her arms. After her long and eloquent silence (as though she were a regular at Club Silencio), she sings to him—not in the game-changer fashion of that night spot’s Rebekah Del Rio (another magnet who gets dragged around) but, this being Carax’s revelation, in a disappointingly amateurish, though studiously assured, gospel register. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word….Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.”
Having skirted around the matter in the other ventures, with this discovery of palpable life in a graveyard, Holy Motors instils in our attention that without courage death is all we have. This is a matter only lightly implied by Jean Cocteau in his Beauty and the Beast. Carax, in his concerted effort to delineate the endangered nature of the strivings of movies with a difference, keys his homage and innovation to a magic of interpersonal love that not only ravishes talent but cherishes missteps for their recuperative promise. Presentation of resilience by the model takes into account as never before a rather numerous sub-set of sensibilities neither impressively comprehensive nor impressively consistent, but nonetheless compelling exponents of graceful sufficiency. The noticeable Belle and Bête constellation sustained by Oscar and Celine—as, in Mulholland Drive, the Beast at the back—is long on persistence and short on fire. She often does seem more a banker’s sidekick, very good at dossiers. Though she alludes to “the agency,” if you watch her closely, she’s sharing the auteurial cues. There she is, pulling a multi-bullet-riddled Oscar toward the white charger she handles so expertly, after he (completely hooded), races across the Champs-Elysees in order to gun down himself, at a business appointment we heard him arranging at the outset, pertaining to the need for even more tight security than already obtains at his residence, where snipers perch on his Constructivist roof. She drifts regally through the clutch of gore and hysteria. “Excuse me…,” she confronts the onlookers. “It’s a mistake…” This very strange orbit is both out there as a form of Grand Guignol street theatre, and happening between them in their frosted glass submarine, where the “real” streets can be consulted by digital means. (There is a moment, when the output begins to look ridiculous in view of the input, when a figure joins them in their workspace. He puts to Oscar—Celine very anxiously following the dialogue—that his performances have begun to lack fire. He does so, in the guise of a movie mogul—played by a presence in many blue-chip features, Michel Piccoli (with a scarlet birthmark around one eye), and as such spanning the Italian and immobile powers-that-be in Mulholland Drive, and also the force diving us to embarrassment, the devil, probably. He asks Oscar, “I know you like your work. What makes you do it?” Oscar replies, “…for the beauty of the gesture…”) For all her present Ice Queen sedateness, Celine would be right at home with horror, the actress playing her being a party to one of the most unsettling films in the métier, namely, Edith Scob, star of Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face, at the dawning of the New Wave. Her arresting way of addressing Oscar as, M’Scar, derives from that role as a girl with a horribly mutilated face (generally covered by a handsome mask) whose surgeon-father, feeling responsible for the accident, would make captives of lovely young women to use their facial skin to graft upon his daughter, all to no avail, and halted violently by the girl on comprehending the details of her surgical regime. (With the burqua, the model is, briefly, eyes without a face.) Despite, or perhaps somewhat due to, the uncanniness of her circumstances, the in one sense ugly girl is a beautiful sensibility. This would be her meaningful link with Oscar’s career of beastly mishaps for the sake of a vital fusion of crude, material inertia (including the inertia of bathos) and supernal consciousness thus implicated. (Thus her seemingly dry deployment of his name would really be a discreet and repeated expression of endearment.) It would also bring another strain of reconstruction and love to light—dogged, with quiet wit, and easing back a bit on the apocalyptic and the paranoiac. An offshoot of that leeway being adumbrated in this remarkably ambitious film is a scene where Oscar imagines himself on his deathbed, a scene curdling with sentimentality. After pleasingly consulting herself in a mirror, like the girl in Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer, his niece is able to put enough heart into her largely leaden protestations to move us, however tenuously. Perhaps the final scene, after Celine brings the limo to the Holy Motors garage, and the cars engage in some whimsical banter—a scene not without frisson in its relationship to the vicious oldster/toys in Mulholland Drive—attends to that exigency of becoming more “easy going.” Its anxiety about becoming obsolete would, in view of the ordeal just witnessed, be more in the vein of a challenge that can be met. (Her exiting the garage introduces another dimension of that relationship, ardent but a bit rigid. On parking the big, shiny vehicle [she’s frequently glimpsed puttering with it and shining it up, like a much-prized steed], she places the mask of a young, symmetrically perfect woman’s face over her handsome but less than dazzling face. This, on the one hand valid attentiveness to viable optics, includes a level of self-absorption that would be an impediment to their constellation of limo. Moreover, in her chic, liquid, black trench coat, as complemented by the mask and her having let down her severely-bound, executive secretary hair, she becomes Christine, back from some highway drive with Mike Hammer, a frequently consulted figure by films this film is both delighted with and anxious about. [She also becomes a critically challenged version of Lynch’s Rita, driven, for fear of her life, to disguise.])
Oscar, so memorably performed by actor Denis Lavant, might come out of this thinking this season, like every season, is a time of damaged goods. We, who may perhaps have a less consuming schedule than he, can only marvel on being presented, by Leos Carax, with such a splendid gift.