I know there are a lot of in-jokes and symbols and references I am supposed to get in order to enjoy Holy Motors, and I supposed it didn't help that I haven't seen any of Leos Carax's other work, so you will have to judge me for my reaction to this movie.
Holy Motors (this is the title in French, as well) is a movie about a man who rides around the Île-de-France region all day in a white limousine. He has nine appointments for the day, and for each appointment he is (apparently) – or perhaps simply portrays – a different person. All fine and well, but why?
The film is quite self-consciously about the movies, and so Holy Motors displays a nostalgia for old films and old ways of making films, as well as nostalgia in general (a beautiful building has been gutted and will be turned into some modern monstrosity, the headstones in the cemetery don't have names but instead say "visit my website"). Nostalgia is not really my thing, so I didn't quite identify with the film's sentiments on this count. In fact, I found the day's second appointment – which contains the most hip technology in the film – to be one of the most intriguing of the day's appointments.
The film is also about Leos Carax, though, and these are the references I didn't get as I watched. Evidently he conceded to make this film digitally and he believes that older cameras are holy in some way (they have motors, which is where he, apparently, gets his title). The main character's name is M. Oscar, which is Leos Carax's given name. Carax appears in the film, as well, having woken up from a dream and stumbling into a movie theatre where everyone is (as still as stone) watching King Vidor's The Crowd. I was oblivious to all of these self-references, and I am not sure if they are intended to be humor. I rather think that they are: in-jokes for the initiated. They certainly are not self-critiques, however. Holy Motors is not interested in real self-reflexivity.
Holy Motors is interested in what is real and what is not, where people go when they are not in our lives, whether we can actually trust what we see or not, whether the cameras are lying. Again, I get these questions, but I am not really interested in these kinds of questions. Perhaps it is so many years working in the theatre. Is this real? Is this possible? In the theatre we don't really ask that. We ask how to do it or what is happening or where it is headed. Of course it's not real.
More than anything, Leos Carax's film reminded me of David Lynch. Carax is much more interesting than Lynch for my money, but their styles are very similar. The poster, too, recalls the poster for Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and the film made me think of that too – but only for a little bit. Weerasethakul's project (I am thinking of his other films, as well) is very different and strikes me as a spiritual exploration, not of what is real, but of what is possible or how desire can shift our morphologies. Or maybe I'm just saying that I like Weerasethakul and don't like Lynch or Carax. (The poster is also supposed to make us think of Georges Franju's Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes without a Face), and if you miss the fact that Édith Scob is in both films, there is an explicit reference to Les Yeux near the end of Holy Motors.)
I will say this for Holy Motors, it is constantly surprising. Every time I think I have figured it out, Carax reminds me that I have not. The film's ending(s) are absolutely insane and worthy of any Lynchian surreal trip.