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Holy Motors is a Sacré Bordel!

M Merde © Wild Bunch


I have never seen a movie with so much WTF going on inside and outside the cinéma.

I had some unusually disparate reactions to this movie.  

To paraphrase one of my favorite buttons:  just because a movie surprises you doesn’t mean it’s a good movie.  I may be the only movie critic with this opinion- stay tuned.

Before I tell you any more, know that no one knows what this movie is about.  No one.  Personne.

Not the director:

When shown at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, he told the New York Times “The film speaks the language of cinema, but it’s not a film about cinema.”  “I created a world — not our world exactly but not that far, either — and I tried to show the experience of being alive in this world.”  In the same interview, he said “I’m not a cineaste.”  Pas de la merde Sherlock.  (linked for proof)

 Especially not the movie critics:

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian: “This is a gorgeous furry teacup of a film, preposterous and filled with secrets; it is itself one big secret. Holy Motors is simultaneously immersive and alienating, … the absurdity and dream anti-logic give an unexpected force to the serious and passionate moments, which are the more moving and disturbing because they come out of nowhere and are so overwhelmingly real. .”  Oh, and he spoils the ending, if that matters to you.

Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe: ” At some fashion shows, clothes come down the runway that make you ashamed to be dressed at all. How can you wear jeans and a T-shirt when that model is wearing a whole ship? You just have to leave and start over tomorrow, presumably with the Robert Louis Stevenson collection. Holy Motors is the movie equivalent of that.”  -do you mean the equivalent of the ship or the fashion show?  There’s a Robert Louis Stevenson fashion line?

Slate critic Dana Stevens when asked what the movie was about and if she liked it “laugh[ed] out loud.”  She was “thrilled to have seen Holy Motors, [but didn’t have] “the slightest idea what it was about or whether [she] could say [she] enjoyed it”   She writes that it’s “a movie that teaches you how to watch it as you go along.”  -is that what she thought the subtitles were for?

“It is a film about the stuff of cinema itself, and is perhaps the strongest contender for the Palme d’Or yet.”  Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph

 “… there are also frequent nods to film history, little looks at our expectations of different genres, and musings on identity and agency. Things get progressively crazier, with metaphor and references layered thickly on top of one another until they nearly overwhelm. This is a film that not only demands repeat viewings but also makes that an attractive proposition.”  Ian Buckwalter, Washingtonian

 Indulge me, just one more….

 Holy Motors manages to make a profound statement about human existence and the fine, often blurred line between living and acting without being heavy-handed or pedantic.  Holy Motors a fascinating and heartbreaking study of humanity, one leavened with a refreshing levity and humor that makes Carax’s philosophy on life not only palatable, but thoroughly enjoyable.”   Emily Kirkpatrick, Paste   leavened with levity?  

To paraphrase my above paraphrased button:  Not understanding a movie doesn’t mean it’s a good movie.  (This applies to all types of art, by the way).

To pre-empt any refuations from the blowhard types like those quoted:  I didn’t like this movie, but it’s not because I didn’t understand it.  I didn’t like it because it was bad.  One of the reasons it was bad was because it wasn’t understandable  The parts I did understand were bad too.

Let me be clear:  people can have different opinions about movies, as they should. People can even understand different parts of movies to mean different things. That is why movies are art; they are not absolute.

However, a movie should not be a Rorschach test.  A Rorschach test should be a Rorschach test.  Not understanding something is not an opportunity for the audience, let alone a movie critic, to determine the intention of the artist and/or show off your cinematic expertise while trying to appear superior, like this critic from Reeling Review:

Holy Motors connects to many other films, with even the wall mural of the opening scene recalling The Man Who Fell to Earth‘s table tennis room.  Carax’s film is a cousin to Synecdoche and a modern response to Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (sic).  He even appears to have anticipated Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, answering the questions set forth by Robert Pattinson as to where all the limos go at night (Holy Motors!).”

OMG!  I can’t believe how you can cram that much cinematic expertise into two sentences!  I really can’t… believe it’s expertise.

I am happy, thrilled really, to release all this helium and at least explain why, IMHO, this film is incomprehensible AND almost totally sucks.

For the first hour and twenty three minutes, I HATED this movie.  I hated it because it was bad, and I hated it because it was essentially an extended version of a shorter bad movie I HATED.

That movie was Tokyo,  a triptych of stories of the city, two of which were made by French directors.  The first piece was directed by Michel Gondry of whom I’m not a fan but not so much of a snob not to watch.  The second mini-movie was directed by Léos Carax, who directed Les Amants du Pont Neuf (The Lovers on the Bridge).

M Gondry’s contribution was barely watchable, but I expected the second, that of M Carax. to be better.  Although I hadn’t seen the aforementioned film, I remembered its acclaim (and still had the press kit).  

His chapter of Tokyo, appropriately titled Merde (Shit), starred the French actor Denis Lavant as a one-eyed mute freak wandering around Tokyo repulsing every human with whom he came in contact. It was so bad I walked out.  I couldn’t leave the cinéma because my ride didn’t share my offense and was still in the salle. I usually have something to read with me (of course I didn’t this day), but I preferred looking at a wall rather than another frame.  My friend who stayed said I made the right choice.

This upsetting experience quickly transformed into an amusing anecdote. I even told it at the festival not two weeks ago, never suspecting this cinematic trauma would embrace the zombie trend.

Denis Lavant has reprised his character from Tokyo, this time named M Merde with the Dr. Frankenstein director who created him.

M Merde is just one of main character Oscar’s (Levant) “jobs.”  He rides in a limousine and has a driver/assistant/secretary, the perpetually scared Céline (Édith Scob- who is absolutely stunning  at age 75- ladies this is how you age gracefully!).  His “business” is not clear, but I’m very curious to know what he calls his occupation on his tax return.  Until now, I thought Madame Pipi was the most hysterical occupation in France, and I’ve always wanted to know if that’s what they write for occupation on official forms (of which there are beaucoup thanks to the Napoleonic Code).  These are the ladies that sit and glare at you when you don’t give them change after using the bathroom.  That’s really what they’re called, ask a Frenchie.

Oscar performs several jobs involving bad latex makeup before he incarnates as M Merde, so I was not enjoying the movie even before his appearance.

I’m going to describe the scene for this “job” with the intention of pure exposition- no judgment, no snark, so you can get an idea of what was shown on the screen.

After lunching on sushi in his limo, he starts to change character.  There is sparse chatter with Céline. She drops him off at a manhole cover which he displaces to enter a sewer.  He emerges at the Père Lachaise cemetery, grabbing roses from the tombstones which he savagely eats.  He happens upon a crowd whom he scares. They are gathered watching a photo shoot, but the photographer (Geoffrey Carey- glad to see him working) isn’t scared, rather he is intrigued.  He sends over his assistant to kindly ask him to participate.  M Merde bites off her fingers, but doesn’t eat them.  He mounts the pedestal where Eva Mendes, the model, has stayed posed and silent.  He licks her armpit spreading the assistant’s blood with his tongue. She then faints.  He carries her off to a cave.  She stands still as he “re-designs” her dress, tearing it into a burkha.  He orders her in gibberish, which she understands, to model his creation, and she struts as if she’s on a catwalk.  Cut to a room in the cave. She is sitting down on a stone. He is standing, but in spastic motion and mumbling in gibberish. Next, he removes all his clothes. She sits passively still.  He sits next to her, then lays his head on her leg. He has a very visible erection.  Once he is still, she lifts the veil to uncover her face and sings a lullaby to him.

Here’s New Yorker film critic Richard Brody’s explanation of this scene:

“With a signal act of comic violence, he carries off the model (Eva Mendes) with whom he’s instantly smitten. Here Carax doesn’t just mock the vulgar debasement of women by frivolous predators but, as in the motion-capture dance, he locates the authentic core of beauty and inner force that even those debased representations depend on. Once more, he seeks and finds the moral triumph of the performer.”

Here’s Le Movie Snob’s interpretation:

(Expletive Deleted)  Who wants to sit through this kind of crap?

Then, at one hour and twenty-four minutes, the movie became suddenly watchable and almost likable.  Kylie Minogue (Eva) meets Oscar at the grand magasin (department store) La Samaritaine that, criminally, is set to be torn down.  (A big merci to the former First Lady of France, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who pulled the strings to allow filming there.)  Minogue is beautiful, with a Jean Seberg pixie haircut, dressed down, and with a mostly expressive face (she normally over-Botoxes).  They wander through the decaying store, and then Kylie sings a melancholy song, “Who Were We.”  The mood fits the sadness of seeing the death of that great store and landmark.

If I can say anything good about this movie, it is that I hope this will lead Ms. Minogue to be cast in higher profile projects.  Today, she’s mostly known as a dance pop superstar, but actually released her first album to capitalize on her fame in her native Australia and the U.K. as a soap star.  Her superstar status as a singer is largely due to her lack of a successful acting career; her highest profile movies to date have been Bio-Dome in which she co-starred with Pauly Shore and Street Fighter, a Jean Claude Van Damme movie.

It’s hard to believe she replaced Juliette Binoche who had a falling out with the director.  That’s was interesting to choice to say the least, I can’t imagine the song being the same, if it would have been at all. The cynical part of me thought perhaps, at least initially, it was motivated to acquire the license to use one of Minogue’s hits as a ringtone.

Hopefully, I’ve explained this inexplicable movie.  





This site was borne of my passion for movies, particularly French films. I have spent time in France and am fluent in the language, hence the “le”. The “snob” part, while of French origin, is not meant to intimidate, but rather an effort to reclaim the word from the pretentious, just as the gay community has done with the word “queer.” We’re all snobs; we all like what we like.


  1. Thank You. When I first saw “Holy Motors” I had the same opinion as you exposed here, but couldn’t find ONE review or online critic that expressed the way I felt about this movie. No one dares to say what you just said here, I guess it’s better to complement than to say the truth: what the fuck did that mean? Once again, thank you for your intellectual honesty.

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