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UICA to screen "Holy Motors"

The UICA is showing a French/German film that follows a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar through Paris.
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Showtimes for "Holy Motors"

12/28 Friday – 3:30, 8:00 PM
12/29 Saturday – 3:30, 8:00 PM
12/30 Sunday – 2:30, 7:00 PM
12/31 Monday – Closed
1/1 Tuesday – Closed for the Holiday
1/2 Wednesday – 8:00 PM
1/3 Thursday – 8:00 PM

Holy Motors,” the UICA’s current resident film, is one of those rare movies with the potential to change the way the viewer sees the world. Directed by Leos Carax, the film is a French and German collaboration whose story takes place in Paris and is told in French.

“Holy Motors” follows a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shady character who, though he is likely the film’s protagonist, remains morally ambiguous to the audience throughout the film. Monsieur Oscar’s business day consists of a series of nine appointments, which he is taken to as the passenger of a nondescript white limo. This is driven by his one consitent companion, Celine. He is given the information for one appointment at a time, which he then methodically prepares for by completely altering his appearance and demeanor, as if preparing to perform a part in a play.

Throughout his day we see him transform into, among other things, a gangster who murders an acquaintance, a motion-capture performer, a dying but beloved uncle, a terrifyingly insane person who wreaks utter havoc on a cemetery, and an accordion player. Throughout each of these segments the film transitions from a linear narrative to something more abstract, and- frankly- mildly disturbing, and back again.

By his second or third appointment one begins to wonder if Monsieur Oscar’s position in the world is its disruptor. I found myself wondering if the agency he works for is responsible for all manner is oddities and tragedies that occur in the world. His first role was as a panhandler, and his third, the insane person, resulted in his having bitten off two of a woman’s fingers, and his subsequent abduction of a supermodel (played by Eva Mendes).

As the film progresses we learn that Monsieur Oscar is not the only person in Paris who holds this kind of position in society. The agency who employs him also employs thousands of other actors who are transported around the city in similar nondescript limos. The limos, by the way, fill the role of dressing rooms, since the job requires that the characters’ locations and proximities to their appointments remain flexible.

By the end of the film we come to see that not only is Monsieur Oscar an actor, but many of the people he interacts with are as well. Once he fulfills the role of the dying uncle, who immediately prior to dying, had a very touching moment with his heartbroken niece, he lays still for a moment before getting up, begging the girl’s pardon, and hurrying off to his next appointment. The girl herself acknowledges that she too has another appointment, but lingers for a couple more minutes, presumably to give that part the attention it deserves.

The nature of Holy Motors, which it turns out is the company’s name, is never actually revealed in the film, leaving the audience to wonder. The film ends after Celine drops Monsieur Oscar off at his final appointment for the evening, promising to return for him in the morning. This, in itself, is sort of a fascinating development since it reveals that Monsieur Oscar never stops filling and playing roles and has no home and potentially no life of his own. Celine returns the limo to Holy Motors, and joins the queue of dozens of other limos being returned to the massive garage for the night. The queue and the size of the garage confirm the viewer’’s suspicions about how widespread the agency’s reach is.

“Holy Motors” is a very compelling film. Even the appointments for which the audience receives foreshadowing are riveting and all the more terrifying. One realizes very early in the film that there is literally nothing Monsieur Oscar will not do to fulfill a role. The film’s mood and genre transition with each appointment as well.

By the end, the film begins to read as something of an allegory about the performative nature of the world we live in. So few people feel the liberty to behave completely as themselves as they function in the world. People even perform at least a little in their interpersonal relationships.

Knowing this about people makes a world where the people who inhabit it are actors and know they are actors, but only rarely acknowledge that fact to each other particularly compelling and intriguing. “Holy Motors” comes across as a poignant and only mildly depressing commentary on the nature of our society at large.

Holy Motors opens Friday, December 28 at the UICA, and will run through Thursday, January 3, 2013.

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