How you interpret Holy Motors is completely up to you. You may find yourself pondering it for days, unable to come up with a solid answer to ‚Äúwhat did that film mean?‚Äù. Caution – spoilers ahead.
Critics have come up with many interpretations of the film – with one being that it is a celebration of cinema. The opening scene certainly seems to suggest this, as it is the director Leos Carax himself who is pictured waking in a hotel room and entering a theatre where people wait to be entertained, while King Vidor’s silent classic The Crowd (1928) plays.
The stories that result hopscotch through various genres, forming a history of not just 20th-century cinematic storytelling but the director’s own personal relationship to it. Carax has carefully weaved references to iconic and influential films throughout Holy Motors, some of which we’ve listed below.
– In the film’s introduction, director Leos Carax’s house appears to be modeled after Monsieur Hulot’s brother’s home in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958).
– The beggar and La Samaritaine scenes pay homage to another Leos Carax film, The Lovers on the Bridge (1991).
– The creepy, leprechaun-looking Monsieur Merde first appeared in Tokyo! (2008), an anthology film by Michel Gondry, Bong Joon-ho, and Leos Carax. Carax wanted to do a feature after Tokyo! tentatively titled Merde In USA. The opening scene was supposed to be in New York, with Denis Lavant coming out of the sewer behind a fashion shoot with Kate Moss. It was the only part that was written for the film, and Carax ended up adapting it for Holy Motors. Kate Moss was initially set to play Eva Mendes’ character in Holy Motors, but had to pull out before filming began due to touring and her wedding.
– Amongst the endless clutter in the white limousine lies a piece of sheet music that reads ‚ÄúEntr’acte‚Äù, literally meaning ‚ÄúIntermission‚Äù. This alludes to the musical intermission in the middle of the film, which is a cover of late bluesman R. L. Burnside’s ‚ÄúLet My Baby Ride‚Äù, and also to the landmark 1924 silent film called Entr’acte by Rene Clair.
– Kylie Minogue’s hairstyle, walk and name (Jean) are based on Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard’s classic new-wave film Breathless (1960).
– Kylie Minogue’s Jean dives backwards off the top of La Samaritaine in a similar manner to the magician in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 5. Another of Matthew Barney’s films, Drawing Restraint 7, features heavy use of makeup and prosthetics, while taking place inside a white limousine.
– Monsieur Oscar appears to live with a chimpanzee in the final scene, a reference to Nagisa Oshima’s Max Mon Amour (1986), in which Charlotte Rampling is married to a chimpanzee.
– The actress who plays the limousine driver, Edith Scob, is seen at the end of the film wearing a mask that is almost identical to the one she wears in Georges Franju’s 1959 thriller Eyes Without A Face. The film is iconic, especially of the surrealist-inspired cinema with which Holy Motors is so closely aligned.
This is only one understanding of Holy Motors, there are many more. Take a look at the SBS Film cheat sheet and tell us your thoughts on the World Movies Facebook.
You can see Holy Motors in its Australian television premiere this Thursday 9 May 8.30pm on World Movies, only on Foxtel.