THE ONE THING I'd advise about Holy Motors is not to read or listen to anything that anyone else has to say about it. That includes this review. Thus far, just about anyone who's talked about Holy Motors has been unable to do so without coming across as an obnoxiously pretentious ass; I'll try to avoid that fate, but no promises.
Ah, you're still here. Fine. Okay.
To be fair, the threat of "coming across as an obnoxiously pretentious ass" isn't helped by the fact that to describe Holy Motors is to describe a film that sounds like a parody of arthouse cinema. Over the course of an afternoon and an evening in Paris, Holy Motors follows Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), a mysterious figure who traverses the city in the back of a massive white limousine. With faithful driver Céline (Edith Scob) at the wheel, and with the limo's cabin packed with a makeup table and more rubbery prosthetics than Cloud Atlas, Oscar goes to a number of "appointments"—and at each, he drastically changes his face, his hair, his clothes, his mannerisms, his cohorts. First he appears as a privileged businessman, then a filthy, deranged, fucked-up leprechaun; sometimes he's a decrepit, panhandling old, later he's a father, an assassin, a guy wearing a motion-capture unitard who goes down on a woman wearing a motion-capture unitard. Oscar's appointments play out, one after the other, seeming only loosely connected; as Holy Motors progresses, a few lines start to be drawn between them, but deciding how important they are is up to you. There's murder and blood and dogs and erections and an Eva Mendes, there are doppelgangers and alien sex and gravestones engraved with URLs. There's a musical number by Kylie Minogue, and, midway through the movie, there's an entr'acte featuring a parade of hot-and-bothered accordionists that's as thrilling and impressive a sequence as any film's had this year. Yeah! Holy Motors!
The temptation to assume that writer/director/actor Leos Carax is saying something important with all of this is hard to resist, but—at least for me—it's just as hard to figure out what that important thing might be. Holy Motors might very well be brilliant, and it also might very well be 2012's version of the emperor's new clothes.
Hence all the stultifyingly unwelcoming, and wearingly pointy-headed dialogue about the film—a mere sentence or two of which is enough to put just about anyone off from seeing it. Which is too bad, because Holy Motors is a hell of a piece of cinema: Watchable and surprising, original and funny, creepy and pretty. For all its mischievous inscrutability, it's pretty impossible not to get caught up in the sheer, weird fun of it. Especially that accordion part! Holy shit!
I forgot to mention that there are also monkeys.