Sometimes an inspired performance is enough: If you’re even remotely a fan of the pug-faced, irrepressibly physical Denis Lavant (a dazzling dancer in Beau Travail), then go ahead and add a few more stars. In the surreal Paris of Holy Motors, Lavant plays Oscar, a kind of touring performer—a Lon Chaney–like transformer who cruises in luxe-limo style to a series of “appointments.” His concentration is fierce; he applies false noses and costumes to alternately beg for change, cavort in a motion-capture sound studio, terrorize a city as a sewer-dwelling monster, reunite with lost lover Kylie Minogue (not making this up) or, most touchingly, pick up his shy teenage daughter from a party.
Who could be paying Oscar for these gigs? Wrong question. Or, to take a stab at it, it’s us in the crowd: Director Leos Carax, returning after a 13-year absence from features, is expressly interested in viewership, loading up his episodes with notions of malleable identification and intertextual reference. (The limo driver herself, Edith Scob, dons a spooky mask near the end, and a sharp viewer will recall her turn in Eyes Without a Face.) But Carax, for all his unhinged invention, can’t shake a hint of cerebral stuntiness. Holy Motors is aggressively “wild,” a puzzle that tweaks the mind but doesn’t nourish. It might be our job, as it is Oscar’s, to enter many stories a day, but hopefully, we leave them with more than a mystified shrug.
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