What is more important, a theme of the movie or how it is presented? That's what I wondered after watching Leos Carax's latest picture "Holy Motors". It's a movie without classical narrative but it seems to talk of many things. In it we see a man named Oscar, driven through the streets of Paris in a big limousine, assume many different roles as a part of his job. He becomes an old woman, a motion-capture actor, a dying man and a head of the family of monkeys amongst else, each of his roles having another kind of story, conveying diverse emotions and different messages. In between his roles Oscar changes clothes and make-up, talks with his chauffeur, gets a visit from who seems to be his employer, and has a chance meeting with his former love.
The movie opens with a shot of an audience in a theatre and thus from the beginning makes us aware that it speaks of cinema. One of the first things we conclude is that Oscar is some kind of an actor whose job is to play a couple of different roles every day with other actors like him, all of them being driven around in big limousines. That assumption is confirmed when his employee appears and Oscar complains that he can't get in the role as well as he used to since he can't see the cameras because of how small they became. Also, his name immediately brings to mind the most famous American movie award, and we can easily see him as a metaphor for the award for best actor, his performances as ones for which the award has been given, and a critique from his employee as a critique of the Oscars. But that's not all that points to American cinema. At the beginning of the movie the director himself gets to the movie theatre through the wall covered with painting of the woods which, together with the name of the movie, reminded me of Hollywood and could indicate that everything we see afterwards is an allegory of it. Of course, I could very well be wrong, but since Carax don't want to talk about the meaning of the movie, all we can do is find our own interpretation of it.
In addition to being parables for the award-winning performances, Oscar's roles are also representations of the various characters every one of us is composed of. When we first see Oscar, he's a wealthy banker arranging a dinner with some colleagues. Later in the movie Oscar sees that character having dinner at the restaurant and leaves the limousine to kill him, showing in that way the repulsion we feel towards some of the characters within us, or, if you want, some segments of our personality. The exploration of our personality is additionally revealed as a theme through one of the songs in the movie, sung by Oscar's colleague and long lost love Jean, with lyrics like: "Who were we, who were we, when we were, who we were, back then?". That segment also explores the possibility of love between fragmented people as we have become.
All of that we could say makes the theme of "Holy Motors", but what about how it is presented? It's a series of bizarre looking unconnected vignettes which create very little emotional impact. The acting is great, especially by Denis Lavant who plays Oscar and through him ten more roles, doing all of that impeccably, as well as Kylie Minogue whose performance probably amazed me so much because I had low expectations, but nevertheless makes one of the highlights of the movie. The cinematography by Caroline Champetier and interesting choice of music help keep the audience interested, but they're not without flaws. The main problem is the author himself. He publicly said that he didn't write screenplay because he doesn't know how to write. And that shows. The movie misses any kind of coherency and often feels unnecessary eccentric. I can't help thinking, maybe with a good screenplay the movie could be more than the sum of his parts, just like it should.
So to turn back to the question from the beginning. I still don't know what's more important, but it seems that having an interesting theme isn't enough, for it can very easily be turned into uninvolving mess. Just like in "Holy Motors", a movie which is better to talk about than to watch.