CANNES, France -- For those concerned that the Cannes Film Festival has been lacking some over-the-top absurdity -- not to mention a man dressed as a disheveled warlord rampaging through a cemetery and kidnapping models -- worry no more.
The 2012 edition of the festival, which has distinguished itself with quiet dramas such as “Amour,” "Rust & Bone” and “No,” finally has, in “Holy Motors,” the noisy burst of the bizarre that every festival needs, even a tuxedo-clad festival in the image-conscious south of France.
Leos Carax’s new film is an episodic romp around Paris, told with a mixture of spy-thriller moodiness and absurdist comedy. A series of nine vignettes about a rubber-faced man known as Monsieur Oscar (played by the director’s frequent collaborator, Denis Lavant), it shows the hero as he spends a day working for a shadowy group called the “Agency.” He drives around Paris assuming identities and, often, causing some type of mayhem.
In one striking scene, Monsieur Oscar dresses in a skintight motion-capture suit and simulates sex with a red-tailed female creature; in another he dons a pointy beard and acts like a madman in a cemetery, where he bites the fingers off a fashion editor at a nearby photo shoot and then makes off with the model. Then there’s the appearance of Eva Mendes in another segment; we won’t spoil the fun and reveal what character guise she turns up in. Sometimes he goes more conventional, like a dad picking up his daughter. Sometimes the entire milieu seems to exist on another planet. Oh, did we mention Kylie Minogue shows up too?
The whole thing is patently weird and self-knowingly comic all at the same time, and it begs for a comparison to something you know. Except, really, there’s no comparison to anything you know. The best descriptor might be that the episodic structure can feel like levels in a video game (a very, very surrealist video game) and the general vibe of some episodes are of performance-art merriment. Underneath it all lies the mystery of just who this man is, who gives him his orders and why he takes on these strange tasks, but that doesn’t really matter when considering the odd scenes Carax creates.
“Bonkers” and “nutso” were the reactions to media and public screenings Tuesday and Wednesday, with the official gala premiere Wednesday night sure to get the formal-wear crowd wondering what hit them.
The movie has already sparked talk of a Palme d’Or, though if the metaphysical meditation “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives” hadn’t won that prize wo years ago, most would surely think this film too weird for any buttoned-down festival jury.
Leos Carax is an enigma in his own right. For one thing, it's not his real name, but an anagram of his first and middle names (he’s actually Alexandre Oscar Dupont, a French American who grew up outside Paris; that name also, inevitably, raises the question of whether Monsieur Oscar is the director’s alter ego). For another, his level of productivity makes Terrence Malick look like Woody Allen — the 52-year-old hasn’t made a feature this millennium, last coming out with a full-length film in 1999, the controversial, possibly incestuous romantic drama “Pola X.”
Will someone distribute this movie in the U.S., and will the audiences they market it to come out to see it? There’s something deadpan and wry that could attract a cult following — a description that might be all too fitting given how cults would seem very much to belong in this movie’s tableaux.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Denis Lavant in a scene from "Holy Motors." Credit: CNC