Holy Motors (4.5/5):
There is nothing more enthralling and infuriating than a film that basks in its opaque mysteries. The narrative is nearly indiscernible, but the impression it leaves on the viewer is unmistakable. It’s like a magic trick: the sheer wonder of it all is intoxicating, but we as an audience want to peek behind the curtain and see the machinations behind it. Unfortunately, the more we peer into a film and its devices, the magic begins to wane. A film that undeniably deserves our attention without cynicism and over analyzing is Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, a twisted romp that serves as a broad homage to the varying facets of filmmaking. Episodic and chaotic, Holy Motors finds us hanging out with Oscar (Denis Lavant), a man who dons an avalanche of makeup, clothing and identities as he rides around Paris in a white limousine. Oscar’s true identity and motivations are unknown, but each time he steps outside his white, mechanical chariot, he absorbs the life of another human being and performs as if film cameras are capturing his every move. One moment he’s simulating sex through a motion capture performance, and in another he assumes the life of a chain-smoking, sewer dwelling oddity. Oscar’s existence is merely relegated to the identities provided to him.
Because Oscar embodies various characters throughout Holy Motors, the film touches upon various themes and genres that are better left explored unwittingly. Some are bizarre while others are tragically perceptive. Cast in the middle of Carax’s crazy cinematic concoction is Denis Lavant, a chameleon of an actor that fears nothing. Constantly ripping back the makeup and faux facial hair seared onto his skin, Lavant seamlessly envelopes every single persona he’s asked to become. To single out one moment in Lavant’s medley of characters would be a disservice to his entire body of work, which he delivers with an unmatched physicality. Underneath the varying skins that constrain his soul, Lavant is tirelessly sympathetic. The deeper the day runs, the more tragic his character becomes. Even when we can’t make heads or tails of Carax’s narrative design, Levant courts us with a vivacious performance that demands our attention. Surrounding Lavant is a flamboyant world that feels as gritty as the real world and as boundless as a fable. From the sewers of Paris to a hilarious jaunt through a cemetery, Holy Motors is a bold and wicked film that dismisses logic and enchants our imagination.
The Sessions (4/5):
Sex is a rite of passage attached to one’s adventure into adulthood. Sheer pleasure doesn’t entirely define the threshold between the teenage years and the adult years, but it’s tethered to the human existence nonetheless. Without the experience, one can feel unfulfilled. Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a journalist and poet, was a man who yearned for such an intimate rendezvous. The only problem with Mark was an inescapable condition that cornered his virginity: polio. Bed ridden for most of his life, Mark’s stiff and twisted body has forbidden sexual nirvana. Mark’s humor and wit act as a social tractor beam, but his necessary use of an iron lung and caretakers fail to elicit romantic trysts. Romantic isolation, compounded for nearly three decades, convinces Mark that love is imminent at the slightest hint of female interest. For just one second, Mark wants to embrace the female body in a way only his mind can imagine. Through his research for an article, Mark discovers the existence of a sex surrogate, a solution to his virginal problem. After deliberating with his priest, Father Brendan (William H Macy), Mark tepidly begins to end his sexual suffrage. Looking to provide Mark with his carnal enlightenment is Cheryl Greene (Helen Hunt), a nurturing woman who strives to cut personal flourishes from her hands on therapy. Through six sessions, Cheryl assists Mark in the erosion of deeply hidden anxieties, and most of all, she fulfills him as a man.
Understandably, The Sessions features a great deal of nudity and sexual activity, but never does it feel cheap or disingenuous. Rather, Mark’s sexual adventures are maturely written and directed. In that regard, each sex scene is transcendent, as writer/director Ben Lewin beautifully marries humor with revelatory character moments. Leading the charge is John Hawkes who, despite being confined to a prone position for the film’s length, delivers a gentle, introspective performance that leaps off the screen. Helen Hunt also deserves kudos as she bravely bears her body for the sake of establishing a character that’s comfortable in her skin. Together, Hawkes and Hunt find a way to make sex scenes triumphant and inviting. These two actors nearly make The Sessions a great film. What’s holding it back is a screenplay that glosses over the emotional complications that would arise from interacting with a sex surrogate, especially a married one. There are minute strenuous moments between the two, but ultimately Mark’s exploration of love and sex feels underwhelming, especially when the film treats Mark’s final brush with romance as a footnote. With my gripes aside, The Sessions is an endearing film bolstered by two excellent actors and a sexual maturity you don’t often see in film.