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The Grand Suggests: "Holy Motors"

A visible machine in review

"HOLY MOTORS": Over the course of a single day, Monsieur Oscar travels by limousine around Paris to a series of nine "appointments," transforming into new characters or incarnations at each stop.

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Innumerable films have been categorized in the marginal depiction of the word "surreal," denoting fantasy, non-conventional atmosphere, the obscure and a singular word used most commonly in describing the film Holy Motors. A wise man once said, "Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible." Absurdity and breathtaking surrealism instantaneously captivate your attention from the opening scene and hold it unwaveringly throughout. The impossible becomes routine and the absurdity blinds the analytical. If you were to view a presentation of stills collected from Denis Lavant's portrayal of the character "Monsieur Oscar" in Leos Carax's Holy Motors, it would appear as a life time achievement award verses the impossible singular - yet multiple - role in this stunning work of art. Appropriately enough, the word "surreal" easily summarizes this kaleidoscope film.

Far too often film critics move away from the personal relationship between the filmmaker and film. This marriage, like any, is very much a tangled interwoven love story, complicated with longing and tortured with reality — appropriately defining Carax's peculiar relationship and personal unveiling he guards within his films. Take for instance the name "Leos Carax," an extravagant anagram the director choose at age 13 between his first and middle name, Alex Oscar. Interestingly, Lavant's first starring role was in Carax's debut film, Boy Meets Girl. Quite possibly becoming Carax's muse he has starred in five of Carax's 10 films. More curious, the first three of these films - Boy Meets Girl (1984), Mauvals Sang (1986) and Lovers on a Bridge (1991) - all portray different characters with the commonality of the name "Alex."

After the initial casting in Carax's first full feature, 28 years later in Holy Motors, Lavant's lead character is named "Oscar." Speculating that Lavant has perhaps now carried out leading roles with some hidden secret completion very personal to the director - graduating from some hidden alter ego(s) as "Alex" and embarking on the character named "Oscar," seldom seen in his true form, a character that leads a plethora of unending fantastical appointment driven personas. Noteworthy, the only role Carax cast Lavant with a name other than that of his given name was in the short film, TOKYO!, which Levant portrays the character "Monsieur Merde" (English translation; Mr. Shit), who lives in the sewers, consumes only paper money and chrysanthemums and speaks a language only three people in the world can translate. The character "Merde" is resurrected in the film Holy Motors, if only briefly, to wreck havoc in a graveyard, kidnap a model and escape to a luxury all his own within the safety of the sewers.

Well over a decade in the making, Holy Motors arrives at The Grand for a brief moment, a single day of a mere two showings. Much like the directors style of storytelling or rather his revealing, the film is minimal and profound. Monsieur Oscar has a number of mysterious appointments, for each of which he has to apply a new and elaborate disguise. In the course of each, he seems to enter a different or parallel universe in which his persona is unquestioningly accepted. Understanding the symbolism uniquely expressed in Carax's films, most specifically Holy Motors, requires a brief look at this reclusive filmmakers mystic. It's rare to find a film so gripping as it whirls you through sudden twists and jarring imagery with such a void in established character development and dialog. This rarity, typically an honor bestowed upon Terry Gilliam or even that of the ever visually appealing Michael Gondry, is what elevates Carax's film Holy Motors into the alluring and all too unyielding nonsensical wonderment of the word - surreal. 

THE GRAND CINEMA, TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2 AND 6:35 P.M., $4.50-$9, 606 S. FAWCETT AVE., TACOMA, 253.593.4474

Lisa Fruichantie is the senior projectionist at The Grand Cinema. She's seen a film or two.

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