Leos Carax's latest film offers further proof that this year's Cannes Film Festival was a tough testing-ground for leading ladies. Marion Cotillard starred in the unyielding De Rouille et D'os (Rust and Bone): her character lost both legs to a killer orca attack. Similarly, Nicole Kidman did it tough in The Paperboy, Lee Daniels' scary follow-up to quality indie-weepie Precious, as a trash-talking, slut-dressing skank who has sex while a bunch of guys watch.
Carax premiered his Holy Motors in front of a divided audience at Cannes. Perhaps the schism arose from the frankly shocking scene of Eva Mendes' armpit receiving a tongue-bath from gargoyle-ugly Denis Lavant, the film's lead (and longtime Carax muse). At least Carax gifts Edith Scob and Kylie Minogue dream supporting roles. Scob memorably starred in elegant 50s horror film Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face) (yes, Billy Idol stole the title for one of his best songs). In Holy Motors, she plays a chic chauffeur ferrying Lavant around a travelogue Paris. Kylie performs a pretty ditty and then swan-dives off the rooftop of an abandoned department store. Why? Who knows? Holy Motors' idiosyncratic and lovingly stylised diegetic universe makes no sense whatsoever, but it sure looks pretty. Kudos must go to Carax’s talented cinematographer Caroline Champetier.
Holy Motors is basically a series of vignettes. The vignettes work for the film’s first half, but then they start to fail. While there is a plot (albeit a very fractured one), Carax’s skittish screenplay doesn't allow for character development. Lavant gamely tackles a startling number of roles during the film’s course, but they are stylised poses that defy emotional engagement.