Sunday, July 28, 2013

Holy Motors (film-notes)

Holy Motors

visa d’exploitation no. 130.255

"Men don’t want visible machines anymore."
           One limousine in dialogue with other parked limousines in Holy Motors
Premiered at Cannes in 2012, critics didn’t know what to make of Leos Carax’ Holy Motors. Variety called the film "certifiably nuts." Another reviewer said the movie was "completely bonkers." The Guardian used a British idiom: "it is barking mad." Indiewire said: "balls-to-the-wall crazy."

In Cannes, the director granted no interviews, made no apologies, and offered no interpretation. Viewers either love this film or despise it will all their heart. There seems to be no middle ground.

Cinema, Carax said, is a "cemetery". When asked whether Holy Motors was reasonably tailored to popular audiences, Carax morosely said: "I don’t know what you mean by ‘popular audiences’, you mean a crowd of people who will soon be dead." In the context of these comments, many reviewers analyzed Holy Motors in distinctly funereal terms. But other critics argued that when the Cannes’ jury awarded its grand prize to Michael Haneke’s Amour, a film explicitly about death and dying, the festival chose "death over vibrant life, that is the life embodied in Leos Carax’ Holy Motors."
Some quotations
Leos Carax, the director of Holy Motors, says that he doesn’t like giving interviews. But, when he speaks, Carax is frequently memorable. Like his hero, Jean-Luc Godard, he can be both secretive and voluble.
About cinema, Carax says: "I’m not a cineaste. I’ve made so few films. Sometimes it feels each one is the last one or the first one. I’ve done ten, maybe 12, hours of film in 30 years." He argues that "cinema is a territory. It exists outside of movies. It’s a place I live in. It’s a way of seeing things, of experiencing life. But making films, that’s supposed to be a profession." Most of Carax’s films feature a woman who was his lover when the movie was made: "very few people have filmed their lovers so many times. It does affect life. It’s beautiful but it’s also destructive."

At 51, Carax feels the icy wind of mortality. The mother of his seven year old daughter, Yekaterina Golubdova, died last year as did his long-time cinematographer and his producer: "You make films for the dead," Carax says, "but they are seen by the living."

"I’m not only my films, but I’m pretty much my films," he has told interviewers.

As to casting Denis Lavant in the film, Carax said: "If Denis had turned down the role (of Mr. Oscar), I would have offered the part to Lon Chaney or to Chaplin, possibly to Peter Lorre or Michel Simon. But they’re all dead."
Leos Carax
"Leos Carax" is the professional name of Alexandre Oscar Dumont – the stage name is an anagram of "Alexandre Oscar". Carax was born in Paris in 1951, the son of a French father and American mother.
In the eighties, Carax was thought to be the Bruce Springsteen of French cinema. He made three pictures in a highly individual and poetic style and was hailed as the most important film maker of his generation. But, then, the inevitable setbacks and disillusion occurred – and, for many years, Carax has barely worked.
Carax collaborates with Denis Lavant, an actor that he regards as his surrogate and alter ego. (The relationship is similar to that between Fellini and Marcello Mastrioanni or Bergman and Max von Sydow.) His first three films were poetic, moody variations on a single theme or set of themes – boy meets girl, boy loses girl. Indeed, his first feature film was called Boy Meets Girl (1984). This was followed by a science fiction film on the same general theme, Bad Blood (1986). His most expensive and grandiose treatment of this issue was Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, a descriptive title that sounds better than the film’s English name, The Lovers on the Bridge (1989)
Les Amants du Pont-Neut proved to be Carax’ catastrophe, the film that wrecked his career. Carax wanted to film this morbid romance on the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris. Not surprisingly, Parisian authorities only authorized a ten-day shoot on the structure – only in cinema-mad Paris would the authorities have been so generous. Les Amants du Pont-Neuf is fantastically elaborate and rococo involving many complex tracking shots across the bridge, all designed with complex studio-style lighting. (Much of the film looks like a hypertrophied MTV video – much fast cutting with globs of brilliant starburst radiance and dense chiaroscuro, zigzag camera motions through melodramatic fogs and torrential downpours sculpted by backlighting.) Paris was too busy and difficult for the effects that Carax was attempting and so he had the entire bridge re-built in a provincial city in the south of France. The picture’s delirious mise-en-scene propelled it way over-budget and the industry developed an Erich von Stroheim aversion to Carax – he was too expensive, too temperamental, too quixotic, and too perfectionist.
Despite largely positive reviews (some critics called Les Amants "the most beautiful movie ever made), the picture lost money and Carax didn’t work for ten years. His next film was Pola X released to great fanfare in 1999. Pola X is completely perverse and a paradox, a big-budget lavishly produced experimental film. The picture adapts Herman Melville’s critically controversial novel Pierre or the Ambiguities, a book that has been variously praised as Melville’s greatest work and denounced as unreadable kitsch – "incest in a cottage" is a charitable way of describing the novel. Pola X baffled everyone and, like the book it was based on, was either overpraised or derided as a confusing mess.

Producers were no longer willing to gamble on Carax. For another ten years, Carax tinkered with various projects on which financing was unavailable –he wrote an adaptation of Henry James "Beast in the Jungle" and tried to raise money to make a documentary on "the female voice," pitched as a film about "lullabies around the world." In 2007, he made a short picture for an anthology film about Tokyo – the unimaginatively named Tokyo! That film featured a monstrous character invented by Carax, the alarming Monsieur Merde – a figure that appears in one of the segments in Holy Motors.

In order to make Holy Motors, Carax had to compromise. Although he had vehemently attacked films made digitally with high-definition video cameras, Carax agreed that he would shoot Holy Motors with this process in order to control expenses. Carax promised to make the picture cheaply. Audiences and critics had liked Monsieur Merde and so Carax also agreed to revive the character for the picture. Carax has said that the film was inspired by stretch limousines that he saw prowling the streets of Paris. The stretch limousines, Carax notes, are like movies – they "are meant to be seen," but, at the same time, resist vision in that you can not look into them.

Holy Motors was a critical success in France and was named by Cahiers du Cinema as the best film of the year. The movie has been universally praised by film critics – often a bad sign in my view – and was on all ten-best lists for 2012. The British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound ranked Holy Motors as the second best-reviewed picture of 2012 after Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.
Holy Motors has restored Carax’ bankability – he now has funding for his next film, a picture called Scars based on the Faust legend and presently in production in Paris and Moscow.
What does the phrase "Holy Motors" mean?
Here is clue derived from a remark made by Carax and published in Australia:
The film is...a form of science fiction in which humans, beasts, and machines are on the verge of extinction – "sacred motors" linked together by a common fate and solidarity, slaves to an increasingly virtual world, a world from which visible machines, (as well as) real experience and actions are gradually disappearing.Holy Motors refers, then, to man and his tools conceived as a mechanism. After the Descartes, philosophers found it possible (even, perhaps, necessary) to perceive of human beings as complex equipment, intricate devices that operated according to certain scientifically established principles. Pre-modern man was an ensouled being, poised between eschatological eternities. Post-renaissance man is a mechanism, but, nonetheless, sufficiently beautiful and complex to be regarded as "holy" – a kind of residue remaining from the earlier religious perspective on human beings.
Carax seems to think that man as a machine, a visible device that exists in the world and that has an instrumental character, is vanishing into the image of man. Carax has said that the limousine is an example of an anachronistic tool, a big car that soon no one will need since machines that operate mechanically, that is by gear and lever and internal combustion, are rapidly being absorbed into the virtual universe. The world is becoming "digital;" human beings and their tools, including their art (and film), are becoming extinct – the film, Carax’ first shot digitally, embodies the retreat of the real and tangible behind a streaming veil of digitized data. Carax shows us the image of man as portrayed by Muybridge at the very dawn of the age of cinema. This allusion suggests that man remains the measure of all things and that the image of man is decisive in our culture. But if the image of man lacks a referent – that is, a real breathing, sweating, palpable human being, what is the status of that image? Since the renaissance, the image of man has assumed the dignity of the sacred – the image of man replaces the image of God and his Saints as being the "holy motor" that drives our civilization. But what is the dignity of an image that has no actual thing to which it refers.
How exactly human beings are vanishing, as maintained by Carax, seems mysterious to me. Surely, Carax can’t mean that humans, as "holy motors" have ceased to exist. We can refute that bizarre notion by masturbating or pinching ourselves. But what if the idea of a stable, socially defined and culturally constant identity has dissolved? What if people are lost in a maze of potential images and identities? What if the proliferation of digital media presents so many contradictory images of human potential to us that the entire notion of a fixed, articulable, and coherent identity ceases to exist. In that case, what does the sacred icon of the human being, then, represent? If we are lost in a digital hall of mirrors, how can the image of man have any real, or definite, meaning.

Has the image of man become something that is no longer self-evident, but rather just one of millions of questionable, photo-shopped, motion-captured, fabrications? Is the image of man now something that is fundamentally insoluble?
The German Ideology
In Marx’s 1845, The German Ideology, a famous passage asserts:
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity, but each can be accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and, thus, makes it possible for me to one thing today and another tomorrow: to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisher, herdsman, or critic.The end of history defined in terms of the class struggle liberates human potential – or, perhaps, turns everyone into a dilettante.

We can apply this idea toCarax’ Holy Motors to assert:
In digital virtual society, all information is equally available to all and, therefore, consumers may become accomplished in any field of endeavor that they wish. This makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow: I may hunt on my computer in the morning, pursuing virtual prey, study the distribution and population of fish in the afternoon, impersonate a porn star in the evening, and write learned treatises on any subject that interests me after dinner. But I experience these things and acquire this information without ever becoming a real hunter, without ever actually seeing fish in the water, without having actual sex (although I can use my computer and YouTube if I desire to make movies) and my learned treatises are based on Wikipedia entries that may be completely false and distorted. The essence of digital existence is impersonation. A tabula rasa inhabits various computerized avatars – encounters dungeons and dragons, serves as a tough Marine killing lizard-men and fire-sprites on a devastated planet, constructs cities and civilizations, runs imaginary households, drives a Formula One in the Gran Prix and plays NFL football. But the person who does this is not a race-car driver, sedentary to the point of desuetude, often inaccessible to his real family and household and passive. The computer gamer playing a game in which he or she builds an entire civilization, an enterprise with god-like characteristics, may be wholly powerless in transactions with the actual hardware comprising what was once called the "world.".
But all this pretentiousness, this highfalutin’ exegesis, disregards most of the evidence on the screen. Holy Motors is mostly a surrealistic gag, directly related to Bunuel’s similarly episodic The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie – indeed, the opening sequence in Carax’ film, the director waking from a dream to find his bedroom connected to a movie theater cites Bunuel’s film. (Although Carax has said that the scene derives from a story or anecdote from E. T. A. Hoffmann – imagery of this sort was hoary in the early 19th century when Hoffmann wrote – The Discrete Charm is more proximate as an influence.)

Carax wants to make a film that denies the possibility of making a conventional narrative picture. My suspicion is that this denial is based upon Carax’ personal incapacity, his own failure of the imagination with respect to devising a conventional narrative with plausible characters and motivations. The movie seems to me to be a variant on Fellini’s strategy in 8 ½ (and most of the Italian’s later movies) – if you are creatively "blocked" and can’t figure out a way to make a movie, then, you film your frustration and make a film about not being able to make a film.

Jules Marey
At the outset of Holy Motors, as well as before the Entracte, Carax films animations derived from the famous chronophotographs made by Jules Maray. These images appear in black-and-white in the film and study motion – a boy jumping and a hand flexing. Jules Maray (1830 - 1904) was a French scientist and pioneer photographer. He invented a device called the Chronophotographe, a sort of camera-gun capable of recording sixty images a second. The Chronophotographe made prints showing successive stages of motion distributed across a single large image – that is, all frames were printed on a single large picture. The effect is to graph animal and human motion across a black and white grid.

Maray published his first book of Chronophotographic pictures in 1873. The book is called La Machine Animale, a title that has significance in the context of Carax’ film specifically invoking "holy motors." Eadward Muybridge, in California, saw Maray’s images tracking animal motion and was particularly impressed by Chronophotographes showing horses running. These pictures led Muybridge to his famous bet – namely, that he could prove that during race horse’s gallop all four feet are raised off the ground for an instant in the animal’s stride. Muybridge developed his technique of stop-motion photography in response to images that he studied in Marey’s volume. (Muybridge and Marey are, generally, considered originators of photographic techniques that evolved into the early cinema.)

Marey’s work became increasingly abstract. In 1890, he published a book called Le Vol des Oiseaux, comprised of images of birds in flight. His last work involved Chronophotographes of smoke trails filmed in aerodynamic wind-tunnels. These images were made around 1900.

Holy Motors cites Maray’s images for several reasons. First, Holy Motors is Carax’ view of the death of cinema. A film that posits itself as the end of cinema, accordingly, begins with pictures from the prehistory of the movies. Carax means to show us both the beginning and the end of the sacred machine, the ‘holy motor’ of film. Second, Maray’s pictures are the ancestral predecessor to the "motion capture" images used in contemporary special-effects driven movies – the episode involving Mr. Oscar’s choreographed copulation with the lizard woman, and his appearance in front of a special effects "blue screen" foreground the technology of cinema. Movies are machine-driven; they are a technology involving a "visible machine" – that is, a camera, motion capture apparatus, or, primordially, a Chronophotographe. Finally, Maray’s images capture the mechanical aspects of motion. They reveal the "holy motor" of animal and human locomotion, that is, the image of man as a mechanical apparatus, La Machine Animale.  
What does it mean?
For about a century, from 1910 to 2010, human beings organized their perception around photographically rendered moving pictures. Film was the instrument by which people perceived the world. It was the Holy Motor, the technology that managed both our expectations about, and our understanding of, the world. Godard famously proclaimed: "Photography is truth. Cinema is truth 24 times a second." And in Histoire(s) du Cinema, Godard says: "Cinema projected and men saw that the world was there."

How did the movies shape our perception of reality? Carax posits the "Holy Motor" of the camera as establishing a Holy Mot (RS) – that is, a sacred writ or holy word. His film explores how the moving image, and its narratives, configures reality. As I have argued previously, the image stands at one remove from the real things that it portrays. Hence, the world is already partly dematerialized by film narratives that impose templates on our experience. As film cedes its hegemony to digital media, the image itself dissolves and is dematerialized – the transformation of the shared experience of a movie, an immersion in darkened space with other spectators gazing at a bright light, for a solipsistic digital picture, something "smaller than a human head," indeed, smaller than a human fist, seems to accomplish something like the abolition of any kind of jointly experienced, communal reality. (French philosophes are as prone to exaggeration as Bishop Berkeley – the dissolution of the image, certainly, doesn’t necessarily equate to an existential dissolution of reality. I can still stub my toe on a rock even though my smart-phone digital picture of that obstacle is a bit blurry and insubstantial. But the point is that reality is fundamentally constructed with respect to its meaning and different technologies do, in fact, engender different perceptions of reality.)

Carax ends the film by showing us white limousines parked in the lot at Holy Mot(o)rs. The limousines lament their demise as the "visible machines" that carried narrative meaning for human beings. Necessary to this understanding is a pun – the word "vehicle," at least in English, means both a physical conveyance as well as denotes a device for transmitting narrative meaning. We say that a melodrama, for instance, was a "Bette Davis vehicle" – "Douglas Sirk’s films in the fifties are vehicles for covertly conveying Rock Hudson’s ambivalent sexuality." I have no idea whether the meaning of the word "vehicle" in French is equivalent. It doesn’t matter anyhow. English is the international language and Carax’s mother was an American. Thus, Holy Motors represents an encyclopedia of vehicles that have hitherto comprised narrative film. (Notice that the lineage of film as a black and white medium is invoked by the pictures of the white limousine trailed by the black sedan full of menacing bodyguards. As Holy Motors progresses, black and white, as well as color, however, yields to the green-screen infra-red night vision imagery periodically inserted into the film – in this century, film has become the medium for night commando raids, bombing attacks of Iraqi cities, Zero Dark Thirty (the attack on Abbottabad), all evidence of a drone world, of virtual reality increasingly detached from actual reality.) Carax uses his film to demonstrate the futility and exhaustion of the old vehicles, that is, the old structures for portraying human affairs in images.

The movie begins with an image of a man sleeping, perhaps, dreaming. (The man is Leos Carax). The sleeper wakes to find himself is a strange room. The sequence is shot to confuse us as to what is real and what is virtual – we can’t tell whether a shiny surface in the man’s bedroom is glass or a mirror. A peculiar digital image appears in the bottom of the screen next to the window’s perspective on Paris. Like Dante, Carax is middle-aged and lost in a dark wood. The wall of his room is papered with images of a forest, birch trees. The reference to the selva oscura, the dark forest, suggests that Carax is confused, troubled, and has lost his way. Suddenly, his finger sprouts a prosthetic key or screwdriver and he finds that the wall can be opened to lead him into a corridor and, then, onto the balcony overlooking the silent audience watching what is probably the last movie in the world – we hear the surge of sea and waves, but can’t see the pictures that seem to enthrall the people in the theater. Carax’ image of the shadowy audience in the theater seems related to Abbas Kiarostami’s film, Shirin, a movie that also can be interpreted as an elegy for a lost, and discredited, narrative movie-making – in the Iranian director’s movie, we see an audience of women of various ages watching a romantic melodrama and reacting to it. Kiarostami shows the women’s faces and their reactions but not what they are watching. In Carax’ prelude, a little girl and a monstrous-looking dog are patrolling the aisles of the nightmare cinema. (The dog will later re-appear in the penultimate of Oscar’s "appointments" as the big black mastiff on the dying man’s bed.) The cinema has become Tarkovsky’s Zone – that is, the space in which desire becomes dangerously manifest. The black dog cites the dream-dog in Stalker and, indeed, no sooner are we conscious of this allusion, then, the film cuts to an image that is explicitly similar to those in Tarkovsky’s films – the child in the round glass window, her features obscured by the reflections on the pane (again a confusion between whether a surface is transparent or opaque: window or mirror?). The film’s opening, accordingly, establishes several themes: Carax’ confusion and discomfiture, the funereal cinema, the prosthesis that will later be echoed again and again in Mr. Oscar’s Lon Chaney-like transmutations, and the notion that it is important that reality be projected in order to be seen.

The first episode, Mr. Oscar’s departure from his "home," is intentionally misleading. Carax deceives us into thinking that Mr. Oscar lives somewhere, has a wife and family, and that he leaves this abode in order to attend on the nine appointments prescribed for him by his chauffeur Celine. In fact, as the film’s ending shows us, there is no "home" from which Mr. Oscar departs, in fact, no Mr. Oscar and no Celine, every part of the film is an impersonation, a parody or travesty of some kind of movie-making – there is no solid ground underfoot. Mr. Oscar’s actual identity is unknown and unknowable – he simply moves from one role to another ceaselessly. There is no point in the film where anything that we see is real – everything is staged, acted-out and this, of course, is always true of a movie: it doesn’t show us the truth but is a kind of dream. In fact, in the larger scheme of the film, Mr. Oscar’s departure from his hyper-modern house seems to enact certain conceits and structures defining the European art film circa 1963 – the house looks like something from an Antonioni film, La Notte or L'Eclisse.

Mr. Oscar is the prototypical man of the cinema. He is the little neutral statuette that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences distributes annually at its program in Los Angeles. Oscar is as featureless as Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus idol, a neutral cipher that can be all things to all people. Oscar’s name signifies the cinema and the remainder that the picture represents an encyclopedia of the "holy motors" of cinema, a compendium of the narratives that have comprised the history of the movies. (With several exceptions: Carax doesn’t travesty the American Western and can’t exactly duplicate the joi d’vivre of silent comedy.)
Appointment one – Mr. Oscar masquerades as an old beggar woman – parodies Italian neo-realism. The old woman proclaims that no one loves her and wishes that she were dead. Carax films her interactions with passers-by using a hidden camera, the footage is documentary in character.

Appointment two is the antipodes of Italian neo-realism – that is, imagery derived from special-effects driven Hollywood science fiction. In this episode, we see Mr. Oscar participating in motion capture for a big budget blockbuster. This sequence accordingly epitomizes the kind of film that you see in the summer at an IMAX theater, all violence, sex, and explosions. (Motion capture, however, also is fundamental to the cinema. As the examples of Muybridge and Marey demonstrate, the moving picture is, in effect, a technology for "motion capture.")

Appointment three involves Monsieur Merde, the demonic leprechaun, at Harry T-Bone’s fashion shoot for Wave magazine. This sequence dramatizes the "Beauty and the Beast" narrative that is the motor "driving" innumerable films as well as the nexus between cinema and the world of glamorous fashion. Carax suggests that this type of narrative is fundamentally a form of silent picture – the sequence invokes the underground lakes and sewers in The Phantom of the Opera (and, also, The Third Man) and uses silent film techniques, such as vignetting to advance its narrative. Carax suggests an important dynamic in film making – the homely, middle-aged man directing a beautiful woman. We see this represented in the grotesque and comic figure of Harry T-Bone at the fashion shoot in Pere Lachaise. Hollywood’s film industry is very much about corpulent businessmen and gawky directors exploiting beautiful women (and being exploited by them). Carax goes so far as to imply that the sexual politics of fashion magazines (and feature films) is somehow equivalent to the reactionary program of the Taliban. In one instance, men exploit women by disrobing them – this is Hollywood. By contrast, the Taliban oppresses women by covering them up, while the man’s sexuality is fully exposed. In any event, the ‘motor’ that drives many feature films is the exploitation of the image of the woman. Roger Corman once said that the cheapest of all special effects is a pair of naked, nicely shaped breasts – "it’s better and cheaper than a car crash or a fiery explosion."

Appointment four is a venture into Indie cinema. We have peculiar ultra-hip music on the radio, the city at night, and a realistic-seeming confrontation between characters playing "father" and "daughter" – all the furniture of the post-modern Indie film. It is surprising how the genre of the independent film now seems to ground our reality. Many critics writing about Holy Motors have mistakenly argued that this episode in an interpolation of "reality" – that we are seeing Mr. Oscar with his real daughter. (But if this is true – what about the opening scene? And what about Mr. Oscar’s simian family in the last reel.) Viewers tend to perceive this sequence as grounded in reality as opposed to Mr. Oscar’s other appointments because there are no elaborate prosthetics, no fake blood or putty noses, and the acting (as well as subject matter) seems realistic. But this episode is no more "grounded in reality" than anything else in the film. Viewers are deceived by the pseudo-realistic texture of this sequence and Denis Levant’s Tom Waits’ style appearance and delivery – but just because an Independently-financed film posits itself as the "new realism" doesn’t mean that the conventions of the genre are any more valid or true-to-life than a Tom Cruise movie. And, in some ways, the colloquy between father and daughter is more disturbing, more frightening, in fact, than anything else in the movie.

There follows the musical Entracte in the church. Since the early 1980's feature films have been heavily influenced by music video and so there’s no reason that Holy Motors shouldn’t highlight a brief bit of this kind of movie-making.

Appointment five catapaults us into the world of gritty and brutal crime cinema – it’s like Quentin Tarantino redux. Appointment six is the confrontation with the producer in the limousine. This sequence is programmatic in that it states some of the principles behind the film. Surveillance is continuous and cameras are ubiquitous – but what if there is no one to watch the footage ceaselessly amassed? The death of cinema, in part, is due to the proliferation of the image – there are pictures everywhere, far too many, to be seen. Denis Lavant, as always in a Carax film, speaks for the director. Why did he begin producing images? "Because of the beauty of the act." But what if there is no one else to behold this beauty? The discussion about making images is mirrored by Celine’s statement: "isn’t Paris particularly beautiful at night?" But Carax doesn’t show us the beauty. Instead, we see the city by night-vision, as a terrain for commando raids and police assassinations – the city as refracted through the lenses of a million surveillance cameras churning out images that no one will see. This dialogue raises one of the crucial problems that the film presents: why is Mr. Oscar performing these parts? What is the purpose for his ceaseless mutations? Is there someone watching? If so, who is it? (Someone is watching: it is you and I.)

The sixth episode embodies another interpretative problem, an issue first raised in the dialogue between Angela and her father (appointment four). Are we seeing a scheduled appointment, that is, one of Mr. Oscar’s pre-scripted adventures, or something else – that "something else" specifically an intrusion of the "real" into the appointments that have been plotted for Mr. Oscar on this night? Ultimately, the film will demonstrate that there is no foundational reality at all – the scenes that seem interventions or random events or framing episodes (the producer in the car, Mr. Oscar leaving his "home" at dawn), all of these moments are part of the film that we are watching and none of them is ontologically privileged to signify the truth. What happens in the limousine between appointments is just as "unreal" as the appointments themselves. This thesis is demonstrated by the apparently opportunistic murder of the banker – after all in the wake of the financial crisis wouldn’t we all like to kill a banker? Mr. Oscar seems to be inspired by a sudden frenzy, leaps out of the car and puts a bullet in the bankers’ brain, paying for his importunity by falling under a hail of bullets. But, as we see, this episode is no more "real" than anything else in the movie.

I count the banker’s murder as appointment seven, although Celine characterizes it as a "mix-up." Appointment eight is lush melodrama, a novelistic interpolation in the form of a richly appointed adaptation of a best-selling book from the Victorian era – Dickens or Balzac or Proust light. This scene incorporates the lines that Mr. Oscar was memorizing when he went berserk and killed the banker – accordingly, we are clearly back in the realm of Oscar’s designated appointments for the evening. As Mr. Vogen dies, we see the sinister black dog from the opening episode curled up on his death bed.

Appointment nine takes Mr. Oscar to La Samaritaine, a formerly palatial department store located immediately adjacent to the Pont Neuf. (La Samarataine, built in 1900, was closed in 2005 – it is rumored that the building will re-open in 2016 as a Japanese-owned hotel.) The Pont Neuf was the site of Carax’ movie The Lovers on the Bridge and represents an intertexual citation of that earlier picture – films cite films; movies are about movies and there is no "bottom" or ground in reality to allusions that allude to other images and texts that are, themselves, constructed from quotations from previous works. The eerie interior of Samaritaine simulates the inside of the Bradbury Building in Ridley Scott’s iconic Bladerunner and the image of the woman falling through huge letters, the Holy Mot, also derives from the climax of that science fiction film.  I think it may be asserted that the Samaritaine episode is self-referential -- in this sequence, Carax presents a  "Carax film".

Mr. Oscar’s night-journeys concluded, Carax brings his hero "home" to a wife and child who happen to be chimpanzees. Here is why audiences either love or detest this movie: if you thought that the opening scene showed Mr. Oscar leaving behind his "real" wife and daughter, Carax has made a "monkey of you."

Celine brings the limousine back to Holy Mot rs. The film has trained us to regard the enigmatic chauffeur as the only stable and immutable presence in the movie. If nothing else, Celine is real. But, of course, she is also merely playing a role. She calls someone and says that she is coming home, donning a scary-looking mask. This mask is a prop from Georges Franju’s 1960 horror film, Eyes without a Face. The actress who starred in that film was Edith Scob, the same woman, now aged, who plays Celine, the chauffeur in Holy Motors. In Eyes without a Face, Scob played a horribly disfigured woman whose father, a plastic surgeon kidnaps beautiful young women, slices off their faces, and grafts their skin over his daughter’s ruined features. What is behind the mask? Nothing. The image dissolves into nothingness – nothing is real but looking. A movie is "eyes without a face" – a machine for looking that is not grounded in anything tangible or real. Since the image is without foundation it is also completely disposable – hence the lament of the limousines in their funereal rows, flashing their lights as they whisper morosely to one another.

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