***1/2 (out of four)
Making the storyline of “The Master” look like child’s play, French filmmaker Leos Carax’s first film in 13 years features Eva Mendes in arguably her most fascinating role. Uh, it’s not exactly similar to “Hitch” or “Ghost Rider,” however.
In “Holy Motors,” Mendes is a model named Kay-M, whose photo shoot is interrupted by what appears to be an evil zombie leprechaun that bites the fingers off the photographer’s assistant and carries Kay-M into the sewer—after licking her armpit.
This strange little guy is actually Oscar (Denis Lavant), who spends all of “Holy Motors” transitioning from one persona to the next. Lavant plays 11 parts as Oscar applies his own makeup/wigs/etc. while in a moving car (one of the few things Robert Pattinson didn’t do in “Cosmopolis”). Lavant still looks 500 times more convincing than the character- and appearance-shifting actors in “Cloud Atlas.”
Minutes before Oscar brings Kay-M into the sewer and turns a weird situation even weirder, he’s eating sushi in a limo. Before that, he’s lamenting his lack of assignments in the forest this week because, “I miss forests.”
Naming all his personas and all of his bizarre encounters would ruin the experience, so let’s just say the movie also stars Kylie Minogue, depicts a rather awesome marching band-style accordion jam and features people shooting a motion-capture sex scene sure to make Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express”) blush.
In other words, “Holy Motors” invites possible disgust and likely confusion at almost every turn. Yet open-minded consideration for its warped sensibilities may lead to appreciation for the way Oscar—who at times seems like a makeup artist with too much time on his hands—adjusts perspectives, seemingly in the interest of maximizing his twisted and cinematic understanding of the world. His violent actions raise questions about how and why he’s not apprehended, but this all may be a dream anyway. It’s a glorious, gross, absurd, haunting dream and deconstruction of identity that may enthrall like a symphony or annoy like a rash.
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