Denis Lavant and Kylie Minogue in a scene from 'Holy Motors' (Indomina Releasing )
Saturday will finally see the Los Angeles premiere of one of the most talked-about films of the year in certain cinephile circles -- “Holy Motors,” the first feature in 13 years from French filmmaker and one-time enfant terrible Leos Carax. The film debuted earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival and opened in theaters in New York City and elsewhere around the country over the last few weeks. After Saturday night’s AFI Fest screening, with the mysteriously elusive Carax himself in a rare appearance, the film will open at the Nuart on Nov. 16 and the Cinefamily on Nov. 23 with the possibility of adding other local screens.
“Holy Motors” is an enigmatic fantasia ride through nothing less than the highs and lows of human experience: life, love and death. Actor Denis Lavant, a Carax regular, plays more than 10 different parts as a man who travels around Paris fulfilling roles for other people, a surrogate, instigator and impostor. And he has his own life to live as well, though he may also be a client of the very same service he works for.
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Twisting, layered and looping, the structure of “Holy Motors” makes for a distinctive filmgoing experience, underscored by the odd imagery of talking white limousines, Eva Mendes’ blood-smeared armpit, Carax himself, a tender performance by Kylie Minogue and an outrageously uplifting, accordion-wielding street gang.
With a trail of strong reviews and anticipation for the film already at a heightened pitch online, those putting it into theaters now face the challenge of maintaining that excitement, so that by the time it actually opens in Los Angeles the enthusiasm of its potential audience hasn’t moved elsewhere.
“L.A’s not always the easiest market for a movie like this anyway, for independent and foreign-language film,” said Rob Williams, vice president of acquisitions at Indomina Releasing, the film’s U.S. distributor. “I think the buzzier it gets, the more Internet traffic, tweeting, building awareness and giving it that time to mature and reach more people before L.A. can only help. I think if we had done L.A. day and date with New York it would have been a lot tougher.”
The American trailer – take a look for yourself – includes a line of dialog exclaiming “it’s so weird,” as the film itself works hard not to be some forbiddingly obtuse piece of obscurantism, but rather an emotionally open, startlingly accessible piece of work. (Besides kind of weird, it’s also fun.) Among the challenges faced now for “Holy Motors” is bridging that divide between those who think it is the best movie of the year and those who haven’t even heard of it.
“That’s our job connecting those two,” said Williams. “With this movie, in a certain bubble it seems like the biggest movie ever and then there are those who are just now hearing about it. But there are a lot of people who feel really strongly about it, really love it and champion the movie, and those people who embrace it are really going to embrace it strongly. Hopefully, there are enough people like that to build a pretty significant audience.
“I don’t think we’re overselling it as the best movie of the year,” Williams added, “but certainly a lot of the reviews, if you’re a film critic or someone who sees a lot of movies, this is an exciting thing. You’ve never seen anything like it.”