Now showing @ Cornerhouse… Reviewed: Holy Motors & Untouchable

By John Paul Shammas

This week at Cornerhouse sees the release of Leos Carax’s bizarre odyssey ‘Holy Motors’ alongside the heart-warming ‘Untouchable’.

Review: Holy Motors

‘Holy Motors’, Leos Carax’s first feature film since 1999’s ‘Pola X’, could astound or enrage in equal measure. Purposefully without a clearly defined narrative direction, this bizarre film sees actor Denis Lavant occupy several different characters – everything from a beggar to an assassin, constantly returning to a limousine that patrols Paris, remerging in an odyssey through one life to the next.

There are plenty of things at work here, but for the most part whatever corresponding thread one can muster from within ‘Holy Motors’ fails to bind a splintered, challenging film together with much momentum. It looks beautiful, it is incredibly performed, it is drenched in a love for cinema – everything from David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’ to Georges Franju’s ‘Eyes Without a Face’, but Carax’s irreverence for his audience is detrimental to the intentions of ‘Holy Motors’.

We the audience are asked, whether it be through a motion-capture dance sequence, or a typically disjointed accordion-driven musical interlude, not to engage in ‘Holy Motors’ ourselves but simply to sit back and marvel at the symphony of metaphors or cinematic references at work.

That is not without its merits, sure. But too often do we find Carax talking down to his audience just to make sure we get the point – even when the symbolism at work is explicitly on the surface. Scenes such as Eva Mendes’ appearance as a model who is kidnapped in a graveyard and re-dressed in something that resembles a burka are left to breathe for just far too long, leaving each sequence amputated from the next.

Technically sublime, but for the most part without rhyme or reason, ‘Holy Motors’ cannot be saved by its professorial knowledge of film as it refuses to take the audience along for the ride. Instead, Carax has meticulously constructed an elaborate joke at the audience’s expense. Purposely baiting us without a narrative to grasp, much of the beauty and intellect within ‘Holy Motors’ will not resonate with audiences who would surely much rather be respected than lectured.

Review: Untouchable

After the Weinstein Company picked up ‘The Artist’, a silent movie which went on to be showered with Oscars, it was written-off as a quite spectacular one-off. However, it would seem that they’ve gone and done it again.

‘Untouchable’ is this year’s unlikely French box-office hit – a wholesome and yet quite confrontational comedy which places a Senegal-born ex-convict from the rough neighborhood’s of Paris as the new carer of a paralyzed and pretentious millionaire.

Audiences will have already of been-there-and-bought-the-t-shirt as far as the story of an odd-couple pairing who, despite their initial differences, learn to respect and even cherish one another by the time the credits roll.

However, what exactly makes this so special, and crucially what makes this story that has been done to death feel so fresh and original, is not just the boundaries with regards to perceptions of disability with which it is willing to push, but just how tragic, how heartbreaking, how enlightening and simply just how god-damn funny it is along the way.

The film has been breaking box-office records in Germany and France, and the hype is truly justified. Broad gags accompany a genuinely touching story of human companionship, and whilst it’s not redefining the genre any time soon, ‘Untouchable’ is right up there with the best of them.

As it arrives at Cornerhouse this week, you’ve simply got to see this incredible double act of Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy perform an uplifting but honest account of human friendship.

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