Wednesday, 24 October 2012



Bunion transmission crested USB cardboard plague terrapin oligarchy fruit nipples seventeen rhomboid Egyptian spatula hat flamenco dysentery. What does that all mean (assuming you haven't clicked away already)? Well, little grasshopper, it means whatever you want it to mean: such is the nature of conceptual art. Ningy nangy nob nob neeble narble noo. It's up to you, not the artist, to interpret the art. That'll be £7.50 please.

Horseshit. Oh, I know there's a part of the Art World that'll nail any old crap together and call it Futility #43 and snag a Turner Prize, but most of us real people don't include pickled cattle and canvases covered in elephant turds in even our loosest definition of Art. We mere hoipolloi and hobbledehoys can tell the difference between a proper painting, such as a Turner or a Rembrandt, and a set of maroon oblongs that no-one knows which way up they're supposed to be. (We can't tell the difference between a Banksy and a scribbled knob on a toilet wall, because essentially there isn't one.) Art in Film is even worse: you can look at some of this idiocy in galleries and call it rubbish fairly quickly but Art Cinema takes a couple of hours. I'm not a fan of impenetrable no-narrative movies in which either nothing happens or nothing makes sense, thus I only go to them very rarely. David Lynch's Inland Empire is a three-hour marathon of bugger all which feels like the reels are in the wrong order and at least two of them are missing, Jean-Luc Godard's crashingly dull and tiresome Weekend is incoherent Marxist hectoring, Michael Haneke's Hidden (Cache) and Funny Games are unlikeable and pointless. And hey - the beauty of Art is that even if I decide it's a load of wanky bollocks, I can't be wrong.

Leos Carax's Holy Motors is an Art Film, and while it's not anywhere near as horrible as the above mentioned, it's still impossible to get any kind of a grip on it and I guess the best strategy is just to go with it. It details a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), who spends most of his time not just dressing up as other people, but actually becoming them for no apparent reason. He starts off as a hunchbacked old woman begging on the Paris bridges, before being whisked away to a motion capture studio to "perform" a fantasy sex sequence. Then he becomes a foul goblinesque figure in a green suit who rampages through a cemetery, bites a woman's fingers off and abducts Eva Mendes into the sewers where she sings him a lullaby while takes his clothes off and reveals an erection.

At various points he also appears as a man on the brink of death talking with "his" daughter, an apparently concerned father picking "his" (different) daughter up from a party and then abandoning her in the street, a bloke who murders someone in a factory and swaps identities with him, before meeting up with old acquaintance Kylie Minogue in an abandoned building, where she sings a song. He is ferried between all these random and unconnected encounters in a huge white stretch limo (making it the second incomprehensible dicking-around-in-a-big-car movie this year, after the intolerable Cosmopolis) by Edith Scob who at the end gets to wear her famous mask from Les Yeux Sans Visage for, perhaps unsurprisingly, absolutely no reason at all.

Is Monsieur Oscar a corporeal conduit for ghosts or aliens to vicariously experience aspects of modern life? (If so, why not choose some more exciting ones?) Is the film a treatise on acting techniques and how a great performer can "become" the character (his name is Oscar, after all)? Are they obliquely ticking off the seven deadly sins or the Ten Commandments (since neither include the heinous crime of playing the accordion in church)? Sex and death? Legalisation of cannabis? The price of fish? How the hell should I know? Leos Carax wrote and directed the film; ask him. It's his failure to communicate that's at issue here, not my failure to interpret.

Alternatively: there isn't anything to interpret because there isn't anything communicated. It's been made as a disconnected anthology of vignettes for a lark and nothing more: nothing's meant by it and it carries no profound insights buried in the sub-subtext. It's less aggressively impenetrable than it could have been, there's a sense of mischief and a sense of fun in places, and even at close to two hours it's never actively dull. I suspect the best option is just to stop trying to analyse it and enjoy it while you can, like a beautifully performed song in a language you don't speak. That, however, isn't the way I want to watch and enjoy films.


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