Holy Motors is an instant cult hit

Cert 18 | *****

After 13 years without making a single feature film, Leos Carax returns with an insane, anxiety-dream of a movie. Holy Motors is spectacularly, joyously weird. It’s unashamedly high-concept, but there’s enough dark, clownish humour to prevent it from ever being boring or grandiloquent.

Holy Motors is a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he is chauffeured by Celine (Edith Scob) to and from various “appointments” around a dimly beautiful Paris. His mode of transport is a white limousine kitted out with a theatre dressing room. Each appointment involves him assuming the role of a different character (hence the dressing room) to carry out a bizarre task. One moment he will hobble out of the limo to beg on the street as an old woman. The next he’ll have transformed himself into a moustached assassin, ready to murder someone in an abandoned warehouse. One sees him kidnap Eva Mendes from a photoshoot and hold her hostage in a cave, where she sits patiently while he eats her hair.

It is impossible to describe what happens in this film without descending into what sounds like nonsense. For all its madness though, it’s not at all incoherent. It is a world that appears to be insane, but is presented with such stern, implacable structure that it never feels messy or disorientating. And by creating a crazy world inhabited by unshakably serious and sad characters, the whole thing becomes gloriously, blackly comic.

Lavant moves in a way that is half ballerina and half clown. He is never less than graceful, despite the ugliness of some of the characters he assumes. Equally elegant is the soundtrack. One of the songs, composed by Carax and Neil Hannon (of the Divine Comedy) and sung by Kylie Minogue, is particularly striking. The fragility of Minogue’s voice generates real tension as she teeters at the limit of her vocal range.

The real star, though, is Lavant, the ever-engaging gatekeeper to Carax’s twisted fantasy.