Holy Motors (YGtCTO #27)

Movie written and directed by Leos Carax

How to approach a work of art that defies understanding? I almost wrote “easy” understanding, but that would imply that art always needed to be transparent in its intentions. Also, I don’t know that understanding and engagement are equivalent. I think the paintings of Franz Kline engage before understanding creeps into the communication between artist and viewer, for example. Maybe that is true of most abstract art. No matter what Mondrian may have to say about order and sanity, his art attracts the eye with bright colors and strong, geometric images.

Holy Motors is a tremendously entertaining film which I find very difficult to describe, let alone explain. As much as Chinatown may be about the skewed ways we perceive the world around us, the plot fits into many noir tropes which make it somewhat straightforward to discuss. Holy Motors is about a performer who rides through Paris in a limousine taking on various roles from family man to murder victim. He also leads the band during the intermission. Abetted by his driver, he appears to be employed in all his endeavors by an organization that has others fulfilling the same job.

Certainly, we all take on different roles throughout our lives and it would be convenient to dismiss the theme of Holy Motors as a traipse through life, but too many of the sequences are tinged with disconnects for such a chronological approach. And the ending throws any such thoughts out the window, as far as I am concerned.

Interesting aside, a lot of weird movies have been made. Everyone stretching the boundaries tends to dip at least a toe into incomprehensibility. More and more, I think the trick to getting away with it (meaning that the message is not utterly lost) is maintaining both a sense of humor and a certain self-deprecation. Virtually everyone that I have discussed in this series has those qualities. From Warhol to Carax, I think that artists end up labeled as hard, haughty, and unapproachable when their whole intent of creating art was to find a way to reach others. Maybe Kafka wanted his works burned after his death because he was just afraid that no one would get his jokes, of which there were many.

So, where does that leave us with art that defies easy explication? Sometimes, you just have to let the ocean cover you with its waves. You may only be left with sensual reminders that you ever set foot in the water, but sometimes that can be enough. Across the sea, far out of sight, someone else is standing on a beach wondering if the ripples started by their toes have had any effect on anyone else. No matter how hard they search the horizon, they will never see the results of what they set in motion.

Do I think Holy Motors is a movie for the ages? I do. Do I think someone will ever come up with a satisfying description? Since Carax generally refuses to discuss his work (and when he does, I can’t call it satisfying), I doubt it.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 273 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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