hile Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook and Argo and Zero Dark Thirty duke it out at the Oscars later this month, another of the most heralded films of 2012 will be persona non grata on the Academy stage.
That's Holy Motors, the audacious fifth feature in 29 years — and first since 1999's Pola X — from French auteur Leos Carax, which will get a single screening at the Brooks Museum of Art this week. Holy Motors topped 2012 critics' polls from website indiewire.com (which also tabbed star Denis Lavant for the year's best performance) and venerable movie magazine Film Comment, while finishing third (behind The Master and Zero Dark Thirty) in the Village Voice's annual national critics' poll.
While it's certainly difficult in the context of most narrative films, this melancholy, mysterious ode to what Carax seems to see as a vanishing art form — the movies — is such a rich visual spectacle that's likely to reward the attention of most adventurous filmgoers.
Lavant, a Carax regular, plays "Monsieur Oscar," who spends a day and night being chauffeured around in a limousine that doubles as a dressing room of sorts, stopping to act out a series of scenarios. He's a feeble old lady begging in the street along the Seine. He's wearing a motion-capture suit to help create a sexual/sci-fi scenario. He's a barefoot brute kidnapping a beauty (Eva Mendes) and taking her to his subterranean lair. He's a masked assassin. An old man dying. This collection of sequences might be a nod to different aspects of humanity, but they also feel like riffs on film genres. There's neorealism, fantasy, sci-fi, family drama, musical, crime flick. And embedded within the film are copious film references, from dawn-of-cinema silents to French horror classic Eyes Without a Face to Carax's own past work.
Along the way, while clear meaning and linear story remain elusive, the film contains many of the year's most memorable moments and images, and Carax's lament for the passing of filmmaking as mechanical art — perhaps the "holy motors" of the film's title — is underscored by a late dialogue scene in which Lavant says, "Some don't believe in what they're watching anymore. I miss the cameras. They used to be heavier than us. They they became smaller than our heads. Now you can't see them at all."
Brooks Museum of Art
Thursday, January 31st
7 p.m., $8 or $6 for museum members