I spent the past week watching movies at Fantastic Fest. In the next few days I’ll be reviewing Red Dawn, Sightseers, Doomsday Book, American Mary, Wake In Fright and more. I’ll also be sharing filmed interviews with some directors I met. But first, I thought I’d cover the high and low point of the festival.
In the case of my favorite film of the festival, Holy Motors, I was one of a very vocal majority of people who loved it. Regarding the film I liked least, Cloud Atlas, I was among the lone voices who hated it. Most of the audience attending the Cloud Atlas screening lapped it up like starving dogs eating vomit. The movie was greeted with roars approval from a crowd whose main source of exercise seemed to come from isometric mouth breathing and high impact masturbation. I ran from the theater in fear of being infected by whatever had gotten into them.
Holy Motors screened several times during the fest and as a result a lot of people got to see it. A good thing for getting the word out on a film that is almost impossible to describe without waxing poetic. The most satisfying conversations I got into were the ones in which people were trying to crack the Holy Motor code. While the film has a wonderful aura of mystery about it, the essence of the film is clear - it is a movie about the pleasures of seeing movies and making them. And part of the pleasure of the movies is having them fuck with your head. Holy Motors is a mindbender of a very rare sort. I include it among my favorites: Performance, El Topo and Enter The Void.
From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man…He seems to be playing roles, plunging headlong into each part – but where are the cameras? Monsieur Oscar is alone, accompanied only by Céline, the slender blonde woman behind the wheel of the vast engine that transports him through and around Paris. He’s like a conscientious assassin moving from hit to hit. In pursuit of the beautiful gesture, the mysterious driving force, the women and the ghosts of past lives. But where is his true home, his family, his rest?
When Holy Motors’ Mr. Oscar (the magical Denis Lavant) is asked why he does what he does, he replies that it’s for “the beauty of the act.” Director Leos Carax might reply similarly in describing why Holy Motors does what it does.
In his exhilarating new film, Carax seems to have tapped into cinema’s Akashic Record and brought it to Earth in distilled form. From the opening scene where Carax unlocks the door that opens onto the theater of his brain to the Amen choir of limousines at the end, Holy Motors is as pure as cinema gets. It is about the thing it is, not the thing it is about. It’s reference point is itself. Carax will pull any rug from under any scene to remind us that we are watching a movie and to glory in the artifice of it all. Holy Motors embraces the history of cinema like a drunken poet throwing his arms around the alphabet.
It’s been 13 years since Carax directed his last feature-length film, Pola X, and he’s returned to film making with the fervor of a man who has a lot to get out of his system. But like Holy Motors’ troll with the perpetual hard-on, Carax hasn’t shot his load recklessly or randomly. Carax is a Tantric Master fucking the sacred machine of his art. He uses cinema like a particle generator creating a red hot beam of alchemical fire directed at the very center of the viewer’s pineal gland. His intent is to get you high and he does. He draws you to the screen like a moth is drawn to light. He draws you to the screen like a camera is drawn to a woman’s face or the stars, in their sparkling suicidal glee, are drawn to blackness. He draws you to the screen with the precision of a Bunuelian razorblade tearing open the curtains of your eyes.
Carax has made a film he obviously had to make. He is getting at something deep within himself and he takes us with him - into a place where others have traveled and are traveling still: Bunuel, Cocteau, Kubrick, Muybridge, Jodorowsky, Noe, Argento, Tarantino, Beineix, Franju, Breton, Lisberger, Melville, Bertolucci, Donen, Godard, Powell and Pressburger, Marker…
Carax has taken a road trip through cinema and we are riding in the catbird seat of his dream machine as delighted as children being handed giant lollipops.
Holy Motors opens in the USA on October 17.
Kanye Hanks. A still from Cloud Atlas.
I haven’t read the novel Cloud Atlas so I can’t comment as to whether I would have found the movie it’s based on any less incoherent had I read the book. But I’m a firm believer that a movie should be a stand-alone creation that doesn’t require its source material as a road map for navigation. As a stand-alone experience the movie Cloud Atlas is an absolute mess, a stupendous folly that will be hardpressed to recoup its lavish price tag at the box office. For the handful of scenes that come together and actually engage the viewer, there are dozens that skitter across the screen like blobs of mercury and are just as hard to grasp.
Cloud Atlas attempts to interweave multiple plot threads involving multiple reincarnations of multiple characters across multiple time frames into some kind of cinematic mandala with the intent of raising the consciousness of whoever happens to be staring at it. And that’s what one does while being exposed to Cloud Atlas, you stare at it. In my case, mostly in disbelief. There’s little in this bloated, new agey slop that you can wrap your head or heart around. So you just stare. You stare at the goofy prosthestics the actors are forced to wear as they try to embody various characters you don’t really give a shit about (particularly you, Tom Hanks), you stare at the elaborate CGI that does little to awe or amaze, you stare at the uninspired sets that seem to be recycled bits and pieces from Zardoz, Apocalypto and Star Trek, you stare at actors mouthing dialog that should be inscribed on Hallmark greeting cards and never ever spoken by living human beings (“Nothing is as eloquent as nothing.”) and you stare at the abrupt fits and starts of the disjointed editing that striate the film like poorly designed comic book frames stitched together with cellophane tape and paper clips. And as the two hour mark comes around you start seriously staring at your watch wondering when will this fucker finally come to an end. About a half an hour later it does. The loaf is pinched, circles the bowl and disappears.
The Wachowski siblings directed two good movies, Bound and The Matrix. The success of The Matrix hurled them into the front ranks of modern movie makers. But their follow through has pretty much sucked. With Cloud Atlas, they’ve made a movie that is so spectacularly stupid that if it weren’t for its grotesque sense of self-importance might have joined Showgirls in the pantheon of big-budget, high gloss camp classics. As it is, Cloud Atlas is a beast so malformed someone should just throw a blanket over it and shoot it.
Cloud Atlas opens in the USA on October 26.