Holy Motors

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Holy Motors
Holy Motors poster.png
French theatrical release poster
Directed byLeos Carax
Written byLeos Carax
Produced by
  • Martine Marignac
  • Maurice Tinchant
  • Albert Prévost
Edited byNelly Quettier
Distributed by
Release date
  • 23 May 2012 (2012-05-23) (Cannes Film Festival)
  • 4 July 2012 (2012-07-04) (France)
  • 30 August 2012 (2012-08-30) (Germany)
Running time
116 minutes[1]
  • French
  • English
  • Chinese
Budget$4 million[3]
Box office$4.2 million[3]

Holy Motors is a 2012 fantasy drama film written and directed by Leos Carax, starring Denis Lavant and Édith Scob. Lavant plays Mr Oscar, a man who appears to have a job as an actor, playing several different roles a day, but to no cameras or audiences.[4] It is Carax's first feature film since 1999. The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.[5][6]


After waking up one morning, a man finds and opens a secret door in his apartment. He enters, wandering into a packed movie house, while a young child and a giant dog wander the aisles.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a man called Oscar rides to work in a white limousine, driven by his associate Céline. Oscar's job involves using makeup, elaborate costumes and props to carry out a number of complex and unusual acting "appointments", sometimes in the service of others, and sometimes for no apparent reason. At his first appointment, Oscar plays an old woman beggar on the Pont Alexandre III. At the next, he wears a motion capture suit and performs an action sequence on a soundstage while being directed by an unseen man, then a simulated sex scene with an actress in another suit, with both digitally rendered as snakelike creatures on a control screen. At Oscar's third appointment, he plays the role of Monsieur Merde, an eccentric and violent red-haired man who lives in the sewers and kidnaps a beautiful model called Kay M. from a photo shoot in a cemetery. The next scene finds Oscar as a father picking up his daughter from a party in an old red car. The two argue when the daughter reveals that she had spent the party hiding in the bathroom instead of socializing. Céline continues to drive Oscar to his appointments.

In an interlude, Oscar performs a short musical piece on accordion with a group of other musicians in a church. In the fifth scene he assumes the role of a gangster assigned to murder a man who looks identical to him. After he has stabbed the man in the neck and carved scars into his face that match his own, the victim suddenly stabs Oscar in the neck. Oscar manages to limp his way back to the limousine, seemingly severely injured, before being seen sitting comfortably inside the limo removing his makeup. A man with a port-wine stain on his face is sitting in the limo and tells Oscar that others believe he is getting "tired". Oscar admits that his business is changing, and says he misses the days when he was aware of cameras but remains in his profession for "the beauty of the act". Later, in what turns out to be the sixth sequence, Oscar abruptly runs from the limo, dons a balaclava, and shoots a banker (who looks identical to Oscar when he left for his first appointment in the morning) eating at a cafe before he is gunned down by the banker's bodyguards. Céline rushes to him, urging him towards his next appointment, and Oscar returns to the limo unharmed.

In the seventh sequence, Oscar enters a hotel where he is addressed as "M. Vogan" and gets into bed in one of its rooms. A young woman he calls Léa keeps him company, addressing him as "uncle", and they talk about their lives. Oscar pretends to die as Léa cries, then leaves the bed and excuses himself to go to another appointment. He asks Léa her real name; she says it is Élise and tells Oscar that she too has another appointment. When Céline's limousine is involved in a fender-bender with another limo in what turns out to be the eighth sequence, Oscar recognizes the woman inside the other car and asks if they can talk. The woman, Eva, tells Oscar that she has an appointment as an air hostess who spends her last night at the abandoned La Samaritaine building, and that they have 20 minutes to catch up on the past 20 years before her "partner" arrives. As they ascend the interior of the building, Eva sings a song suggesting that Oscar and Eva had a child together. When Oscar returns to his car, he sees that Eva and her partner have seemingly jumped to their deaths from the top of the building. He lets out an anguished cry as he runs past them to his limo. Oscar finally heads to his ninth and final appointment in what seems to be an ordinary family-man scenario. But when he enters the house, it is revealed that his wife and children are chimpanzees.

Céline drives the limo to the Holy Motors garage, which is filled with limousines. She parks, places a white mask on her face and leaves. The moment she leaves the building, the limousines begin talking to one another, expressing fear that they may be considered outdated and unwanted.


  • Denis Lavant as Mr Oscar / The Beggar / Motion Capture Actor / Monsieur Merde / Father / The Accordionist / The Killer / The Killed / The Dying / The Man in the Foyer
  • Édith Scob as Céline
  • Eva Mendes as Kay M.
  • Kylie Minogue as Eva / Jean
  • Élise L'Homeau as Léa / Élise
  • Jeanne Disson as Angèle
  • Michel Piccoli as Man with birthmark
  • Leos Carax as The Sleeper



Before the production of Holy Motors, Carax had tried to fund a big English-language film for five years. Financiers were reluctant to invest, so Carax, whose last feature film was Pola X in 1999, decided to make a smaller French-language film first, with the aim of regaining prominence in international cinema.[7] Taking inspiration from the omnibus Tokyo!, for which he had made a commissioned short film, he wrote a cheap film intended for his regular collaborator Denis Lavant. Carax was able to sway potential investors concerned with the film's budget by switching to digital photography, a process of which he strongly disapproves.[4]

The film's concept started when Carax observed that stretch limousines were being increasingly used for weddings. He was interested in the cars' bulkiness: "They're outdated, like the old futurist toys of the past. I think they mark the end of an era, the era of large, visible machines."[4] From that grew an idea for a film about the increasing digitalisation of society, a science-fiction scenario where organisms and visible machines share a common superfluity. The opening scene was inspired by the E. T. A. Hoffmann novella Don Juan [de], about a man who discovers a secret door in his bedroom that leads to an opera house.[4] The character Monsieur Merde has appeared in previous short works by Carax, originating in his directed segment of Tokyo! titled Merde.

Holy Motors was produced through Pierre Grise Productions for a budget of €3.9 million, including money from the CNC, Île-de-France region, Arte France, Canal+, and Ciné+.[8] The film is a 20% German co-production through the company Pandora, and received €350,000 from the Franco-German co-production support committee.[9]


Of the lead role, Carax said: "If Denis had said no, I would have offered the part to Lon Chaney or to Chaplin. Or to Peter Lorre or Michel Simon, all of whom are dead."[4] Édith Scob had previously worked with Carax on Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, but was then almost entirely cut out, so Carax felt he owed her a larger role. He also thought Holy Motors was indebted to Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face, in which Scob starred, and decided to give an explicit nod to the film by casting her. The character Kay M. came from a canceled project that was supposed to star Lavant and Kate Moss, and follow the Merde character from Tokyo! in the United States. Eva Mendes was offered the role after she and Carax met at a film festival and agreed to make a film together. Carax discovered Kylie Minogue after Claire Denis suggested her for a canceled project. Michel Piccoli's role was originally intended for Carax himself, but he decided it would be misleading to cast a filmmaker. When Piccoli was cast, the idea was to make him unrecognisable and credit him under a pseudonym, but the information reached the media.[10]

Filming and post-production[edit]

Principal photography took place in Paris. Filming started in September 2011 and ended in November.[11] The soundtrack includes Minogue performing the song "Who Were We?" by Carax and Neil Hannon, as well as Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 15, Sparks, Manset, KONGOS, R. L. Burnside, and the track "Sinking of Bingou-Maru" from Godzilla.[12]


The film premiered on 23 May 2012 in competition at the 65th Cannes Film Festival.[13] Variety reported that the screening was met with "whooping and hollering" and "a storm of critical excitement on Twitter".[14] The film was released in France on 4 July 2012 through Les Films du Losange.[15]


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that the film received positive reviews from 92% of 194 surveyed critics; the average rating is 8.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Mesmerizingly strange and willfully perverse, Holy Motors offers an unforgettable visual feast alongside a spellbinding – albeit unapologetically challenging – narrative."[16] Metacritic rated it 84/100 based on 34 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[17] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian rated the film five out of five and wrote: "Leos Carax's Holy Motors is weird and wonderful, rich and strange – barking mad, in fact. It is wayward, kaleidoscopic, black comic and bizarre; there is in it a batsqueak of genius, dishevelment and derangement; it is captivating and compelling. ... [T]his is what we have all come to Cannes for: for something different, experimental, a tilting at windmills, a great big pole-vault over the barrier of normality by someone who feels that the possibilities of cinema have not been exhausted by conventional realist drama."[18] Bradshaw named the film one of the year's 10 best.[19] Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph gave it five stars, writing: "It is a film about the stuff of cinema itself, and is perhaps the strongest contender for the Palme d’Or yet."[20] On his "Views From The Edge" blog, Spencer Hawken wrote, "Holy Motors is a mind-boggling movie, with oodles of character; it’s funny, emotional, and surprising. It has images that will stay in your head, most notably the accordion interlude, which comes completely out of nowhere, and really takes things up a gear."[21] William Goss of Film.com wrote, "In terms of pure cinematic sensation, Holy Motors stands as one of the most delightfully enigmatic movies that I've seen in quite some time."[22]

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called Holy Motors one of 2012's 10 best films.[23] Sight & Sound film magazine placed the film fourth on its critics' poll of the best films of 2012;[24] The Village Voice ranked it third on its annual poll of film critics.[25] The film was ranked first by both Film Comment[26] and Indiewire[27] on their year-end film critics' polls. French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma also named Holy Motors the best film of the year.[28] It was later ranked the 16th-greatest film of the 21st century in a worldwide critics' poll conducted by the BBC.[29]


Award Date of ceremony Category Nominee(s) Result
Austin Film Critics Association 18 December 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Leos Carax Won
Best Film Nominated
Bodil Awards 16 March 2013 Best Non-American Film Leos Carax
Boston Society of Film Critics 9 December 2012 Best Actor Denis Lavant 2nd place
Best Foreign Language Film
Cannes Film Festival 16–27 May 2012 Prize of the Youth Leos Carax Won
Palme d'Or Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association 17 December 2012 Best Actor Denis Lavant
Best Foreign Language Film
Chicago International Film Festival 19 October 2012 Gold Hugo for Best International Feature Leos Carax Won
Silver Hugo for Best Actor Denis Lavant
Silver Hugo for Best Cinematography Yves Cape, Caroline Champetier
César Awards 22 February 2013 Best Actor Denis Lavant Nominated
Best Cinematography Caroline Champetier
Best Director Leos Carax
Best Editing Nelly Quettier
Best Film Maurice Tinchant (producer)
Martine Marignac (producer)
Leos Carax (director)
Best Original Screenplay Leos Carax
Best Production Design Florian Sanson
Best Sound Erwan Kerzanet
Josefina Rodríguez
Emmanuel Croset
Best Supporting Actress Édith Scob
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association 18 December 2012 Best Foreign Language Film
Fotogramas de Plata[30] Best Foreign Film Leos Carax Won
Gopos Awards[31] 25 March 2013 Best European Film
London Film Critics' Circle 20 January 2013 Foreign Language Film of the Year Nominated
Technical Achievement of the Year Bernard Floch (makeup)
Los Angeles Film Critics Association 9 December 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Leos Carax Won
Best Actor Denis Lavant 2nd place
National Society of Film Critics 5 January 2013 Best Actor
New York Film Critics Circle 3 December 2012 Best Foreign Language Film
Online Film Critics Society 24 December 2012 Best Film Not in the English Language Won
Best Actor Denis Lavant Nominated
Best Director Leos Carax
Best Picture
Robert Awards Best Non-American Film Leos Carax
San Diego Film Critics Society 11 December 2012 Best Foreign Language Film
Sitges Film Festival 4–14 October 2012 Best Director Leos Carax Won
Best Film
Premi José Luis Guarner
Toronto Film Critics Association 26 February 2013 Best Actor Denis Lavant
Best Director Leos Carax Nominated
Best Foreign Language Film
Vancouver Film Critics Circle 7 January 2013 Best Foreign Language Film Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "HOLY MOTORS (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 31 July 2012. Archived from the original on 20 April 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  2. ^ a b Nelson, Bob (22 May 2012). "Review: 'Holy Motors'". Variety. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Holy Motors". The Numbers. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e Frodon, Jean-Michel (2012). "Interview with Leos Carax" (PDF). Holy Motors press kit. Wild Bunch. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 December 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  5. ^ "2012 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
  6. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2012 line-up announced". timeout. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
  7. ^ Blondeau, Romain (10 June 2011). "Le grand retour de Leos Carax, sans Juliette Binoche". Les Inrockuptibles (in French). Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  8. ^ Lemercier, Fabien (10 June 2011). "Arte France Cinéma backs Carax's Holly Motors". cineuropa.org. Cineuropa. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  9. ^ Prot, Bénédicte (14 July 2011). "Franco-German committee backs three films". cineuropa.org. Cineuropa. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  10. ^ Carax, Leos (2012). "Les Acteurs" (PDF). Holy Motors press kit. Wild Bunch. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 December 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  11. ^ "Holy Motors". Screenbase. Screen International. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  12. ^ "Original soundtrack / Additional music" (PDF). Holy Motors press kit. Wild Bunch. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 December 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  13. ^ "Screenings guide" (PDF). festival-cannes.fr. Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  14. ^ Chang, Justin (22 May 2012). "Auds whoop, holler at 'Holy Motors' screening". Variety. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
  15. ^ "Holy Motors". AlloCiné (in French). Tiger Global. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  16. ^ "Holy Motors (2012)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  17. ^ "Holy Motors Reviews". Metacritic. 28 December 2014.
  18. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (23 May 2012). "Cannes 2012: Holy Motors – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
  19. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (10 December 2012). "The 10 best films of 2012, No 5 – Holy Motors". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  20. ^ Collin, Robbie (26 May 2012). "Cannes 2012: Holy Motors – review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  21. ^ Hawken, Spencer (15 September 2012). "Holy Motors – review". Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  22. ^ Goss, William (16 October 2012). "Review: 'Holy Motors' is a Delightful Enigma". Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  23. ^ Dargis, Manohla (14 December 2012). "Against the Odds, Smart Films Thrive at the Box Office". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
  24. ^ Lodge, Guy (2 December 2012). "'The Master' named 2012's best in Sight & Sound critics' poll". HitFix. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  25. ^ "Film Poll 2012". The Village Voice. 19 December 2012.
  26. ^ "50 BEST FILMS OF 2012". Film Comment.
  27. ^ "Indiewire 2012 Year-End Critics Poll". Indiewire.
  28. ^ "Top Ten 2012, Décembre 2012 n°684". Cahiers du cinema.
  29. ^ "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". BBC. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  30. ^ "Gala de los Premios Fotogramas de Plata 2012". Europa Press (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  31. ^ "Nominalizări 2013 – Premiile Gopo 2013". PremiileGopo.ro (in Romanian). Retrieved 11 July 2013.

External links[edit]