It is not an easy task to try to describe Leos Carax' Holy Motors. I suppose some would say it is not an easy task to watch Holy Motors either, or for that matter to understand the damn thing, but whether one "gets" what Carax, and his muse, actor Denis Lavant, are trying to do here - and I may be only partially sure myself - one cannot deny that there is a certain strangeness about the whole thing that makes it extremely difficult to ignore. But then, I do live by the critical creed set forth by Jonas Mekas, who said, "It is not my business to tell you what it's about. My business is to get excited about it, to bring it to your attention. I am a raving maniac of the cinema." So let us not even try to describe Carax' quite batshitcrazy film. Instead, let me bring it to your attention, appropriately enough, as a raving maniac of the cinema.
Basically, to toss in just a bit of explanation, the film is about Oscar, played by the aforementioned M. Lavant, who is chauffeured about the streets of Paris, in a white stretch limo, getting out only to perform what what must assume are little movies, all done in various different costumes and make-up. Never are we let in on why he is doing this, nor whom is paying him to do this, nor what any of these acts (called appointments by his limo driver/assistant) have to do with each other. We are left wandering through a cinematic wasteland of unanswered, and possibly unanswerable, questions. We see our intrepid actor become a a hunchbacked homeless woman begging along the seine, a dying man in what appears to be some sort of contrived deathbed melodrama, a gangster, the father of a teenage daughter (or is that part his actual reality?), and a monstrous madman (a certain Monsieur Merde, whom Lavant first played in Carax' segment of the 2008 omnibus film Tokyo!), running through the catacombs with a kidnapped model over his shoulder.
Of course none of this so-called description of the plot, or what there is of one, manages to in any way properly explain just what the hell Carax had in mind while making Holy Motors, the director's first feature film in thirteen years. Perhaps it is an experiment in meta-fiction, where we are watching dreams inside dreams, all playing out as movies within movies. With a definite Lynchian flare to much of the film, Carax pays homage to both modern and classic cinema. There is an especially obvious nod to Franju's Eyes Without a Face, but one can see not only that film, but also the works of many others, from Feuillade to Buñuel to the aforementioned Mr. Lynch. In this film, we see film itself, playing out in the strangest of cinematic self-love affairs, and no amount of description or explanation would make it work any better in any of our minds. This is a film that needs not to be analyzed or intellectualized, but rather to be felt and experienced and fall head over heels into, just as real cinema, the kind that like this, can best be described (there's that word again) as cinema for cinema's sake, should be. It is a film that was made by a raving maniac of the cinema, and in all the glory with which that entails, it should be nothing else. Now go see what you think.