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Holy Motors

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Holy Motors
French theatrical release poster
Directed byLeos Carax
Written byLeos Carax
Produced by
  • Martine Marignac
  • Maurice Tinchant
  • Albert Prévost
Edited byNelly Quettier
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 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
Budget$4 million[3]
Box office$4.2 million[3]

Holy Motors is a 2012 surrealist fantasy drama film written and directed by Leos Carax and starring Denis Lavant and Édith Scob. Lavant plays Mr. Oscar, a man who appears to have a job as an actor, as he is seen dressing up in different costumes and performing various roles in several locations around Paris over the course of a day, though no cameras or audiences are ever seen around him.[4] The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.[5][6]


A man wakes up and finds a secret door in his apartment. He opens it and wanders into a movie theater full of sleeping patrons. A naked child and several dogs wander the aisles.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a rich man waves goodbye to his family and gets into a white limousine. His driver, Céline, calls him Mr. Oscar and tells him he has nine appointments that day. He reads a file, uncovers a mirror, and begins to brush a grey wig. Over the course of the day, he:

  • plays an old woman beggar on the Pont Alexandre III.
  • dons a motion capture suit and enters an empty sound stage, where he performs action sequences while being directed by an unseen man. A woman in a motion capture suit enters, and the pair perform movements that are used to create a sex scene between animated snakelike creatures.
  • 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.
  • plays a father who picks up his daughter from a party in an old red car. They argue when the daughter reveals she spent the party hiding in the bathroom instead of socializing.
  • (as an interlude) plays a song on the accordion in a church with an ever-growing group of musicians.
  • plays 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 the man's 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. While Oscar is removing his makeup, a man with a port-wine stain on his face reveals his presence in the limo. The man asks Oscar if he still enjoys his work, since he has looked "tired" recently. Oscar admits it is harder now that he cannot see the cameras, but says he continues for "the beauty of the act".
  • yells at Céline to stop, runs from the limo wearing a red balaclava covered with barbed wire, and shoots a banker who looks just like he did in the morning when he left for his first appointment. He is gunned down by the banker's bodyguards and Céline rushes to him. As she leads him away, she apologizes and says there has been a mix-up.
  • plays the elderly "Mr. Vogan", who enters a hotel and gets into bed in one of the rooms. Vogan's niece Léa enters, they talk about their lives, and he dies. While Léa cries, Oscar gets out of bed and excuses himself to go to another appointment. He asks Léa her real name, and she says it is Élise and that she also has another appointment.
  • (in what does not seem to be one of his appointments) is almost hit by another white limousine, whose female passenger he recognizes. Still in pajamas, Oscar asks if they can talk, and they go to the abandoned La Samaritaine building, where Jean (the woman) says they have 20 minutes to catch up on the past 20 years before her "partner" arrives and she will play the last night of an air hostess named Eva Grace. As they ascend to the roof of the building, she sings a wistful song that indicates she and Oscar "once had a child". Oscar leaves her and, avoiding the male partner on the staircase, returns to his limo. When he sees that Eva and the partner have jumped to their deaths from the top of the building, he lets out an anguished cry and runs past them and directly back into the limo as he does so.
  • plays a man whose wife and children are chimpanzees.

Alone, Céline drives to the Holy Motors garage, which is filled with other limousines. She parks, places a teal mask on her face,[note 1] and leaves. The moment she is gone, the limousines begin to talk to one another, expressing fear that they are outdated and unwanted.


  • Denis Lavant as Mr. Oscar / The Banker / The Beggar / The Motion Capture Actor / Monsieur Merde / The Father / The Accordionist / The Killer / The Killed / The Dying / The Man at Home
  • Édith Scob as Céline
  • Eva Mendes as Kay M.
  • Kylie Minogue as Eva Grace (Jean)
  • Élise L'Homeau as Léa (Élise)
  • Jeanne Disson as Angèle
  • Michel Piccoli as The Man with a 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 previous 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 (Merde, which featured the original appearance of the character Monsieur Merde), 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 spark for the film came from Carax's observation that stretch limousines were being increasingly used for weddings. He was interested in their bulkiness, saying: "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, about a man who discovers a secret door in his bedroom that leads to an opera house.[4]

Holy Motors was produced through Pierre Grise Productions for a budget of €3.9 million, which included money from the CNC, Île-de-France region, Arte France, Canal+, and Ciné+.[8] It was 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 unrecognizable and credit him under a pseudonym, but news of his casting reached the media, so that plan was dropped.[10]

Filming and post-production[edit]

Principal photography took place in Paris. Filming started in September 2011 and ended in November.[11]

The music in the film includes Minogue performing the song "Who Were We?" by Carax and Neil Hannon, as well as Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 15 and the track "Sinking of Bingou-Maru" from Godzilla. There are also songs by Sparks, Manset, KONGOS, and R. L. Burnside.[12]


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


Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 92% based on 196 reviews, with an average rating of 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] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average of score of 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] He later named it one of the year's 10 best films.[19] Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph gave the film 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]

The film placed fourth on Sight and Sound's critics' poll of the best films of 2012,[24] third on The Village Voice's annual poll of film critics,[25] and first on both Film Comment's[26] and Indiewire's[27] year-end film critics' polls. French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma also named Holy Motors the best film of the year.[28] In 2016, it was chosen as the 16th-greatest film of the 21st century by a worldwide group of critics polled by the BBC.[29] Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund named it one of his top ten films in the 2022 Sight and Sound poll.[30]

Best lists[edit]

Holy Motors was on numerous critics' and publications' lists of the best films of 2012.

It was also featured on many critics' and publications' lists of the best films of the 2010s:

According to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, Holy Motors is the 11th-most critically acclaimed film of the 21st century and the 283rd-most critically acclaimed film of all time.


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[31] Best Foreign Film Leos Carax Won
Gopos Awards[32] 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. ^ Edith Scob, who plays Céline, wore a similar mask in her best-known role in Eyes Without a Face. Source: Barber, Lynden. Holy Motors: Cheat sheet. SBS. 8 Aug 2012.


  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. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  9. ^ Prot, Bénédicte (14 July 2011). "Franco-German committee backs three films". 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 cinéma.
  29. ^ "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". BBC. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  30. ^ "Ruben Östlund | BFI". www.bfi.org.uk. Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  31. ^ "Gala de los Premios Fotogramas de Plata 2012". Europa Press (in Spanish). 12 March 2013. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  32. ^ "Nominalizări 2013 – Premiile Gopo 2013". PremiileGopo.ro (in Romanian). Retrieved 11 July 2013.

External links[edit]