Cannes Check: Leos Carax's 'Holy Motors'

Posted by · 2:51 pm · April 24th, 2012

The auteur: Leos Carax (French, 51 years old)

The talent: There are a couple of eclectic ensembles to be found in this year’s Cannes lineup, but surely none weirder than this one. That weatherbeaten French character actor (and longtime Carax associate) Denis Lavant (“Beau Travail”) takes the lead role here is hardly a surprise. Gallic veterans Michel Piccoli (most recently seen in “We Have a Pope”) and Edith Scob (“Summer Hours”) also make sense. But who would have expected them to share the bill with Eva Mendes and, wait for it, Australian pop pixie Kylie Minogue? The mind reels.

Carax wrote the script on his own. Below the line, Bruno Dumont’s favorite DP Yves Cape (who hit a career high with Claire Denis on “White Material”) is one of two cinematographers on the project; the other, Caroline Champetier, recently won a Cesar for “Of Gods and Men.” Editor Nelly Quettier (who also has some Claire Denis credits on her CV) has worked with Carax since 1986’s “The Night is Young”; production designer Florian Sanson is a relative newcomer, but recently did some impressive work on “Black Venus.” The score, apparently, is by British semi-novelty band The Divine Comedy, because, well, obviously

The pitch: As Carax’s first feature in 13 years, “Holy Motors” is aiming to be the comeback story of the festival. Word is that the director, after failing to secure financing for a planned Hollywood project, opted for this as a smaller-scale project to re-solidify his reputation. Smaller, however, does not mean simpler, and the logline for this one reads pretty high-concept: the film covers 24 hours in the life of a man (Lavant), who moves between numerous parallel existences, each one as a wholly different being: man, woman, old, young, poor, rich, businessman, criminal, human, fantastical creature. The official synopsis describes his loneliness and exhaustion at living these multiple lives, and his search for a resting place. Trippy.

The pedigree: This is Carax’s second consecutive feature to play in Competition at Cannes, though “consecutive” is a bit of an odd word to use when 13 years separate the films. “Pola X,” a Herman Melville adaptation of sorts that announced Carax’s full-on embrace of experimental cinema, won no prizes in 1999 but has since gained a minor cult following; his reputation rests, however, on his earlier work, principally two films with his then-lover Juliette Binoche, “The Night is Young” and “Lovers on the Bridge.” One of contemporary French cinema’s most slippery, romantic eccentrics (even his working name is an anagram), he’d boast greater standing if he worked more often, but his return nonetheless has a lot of people excited.

The buzz: With a premise as defiantly oddball as its potentially out-of-practice director, this one’s going to remain an unreadable wildcard until — and, quite possibly, long after — the day it screens. Anticipation is high, perhaps more out of curiosity than confidence. Thierry Fremaux, however, seemed bullishly excited about the film at last week’s press conference — he might know something we don’t. 

The odds: Bookies aren’t overly optimistic about Carax’s Palme chances — Paddy Power currently give him 20-1 odds — which is understandable, given the apparent curio value of the film, which will nonetheless have to out-weird David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” to command the Croisette’s attention. All that could change, as obvious as this sounds, if the film is genuinely terrific — which, given Carax’s form of old, it might just be. A Best Director prize, for example, is a plausible welcome-back gift. Failing that, I think we can all agree that Kylie Minogue is long overdue for Best Actress recognition.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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