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Originally published Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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'Holy Motors': Actor's dream ride a movie about movies

A movie review of "Holy Motors," French filmmaker Leos Carax's prizewinning film — a surreal allegory about our vicarious, voyeuristic relationship with film, played out in the odd story of an actor who travels Paris day and night in various guises.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Holy Motors,' with Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Michel Piccoli. Written and directed by Leos Carax. 115 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French and Chinese, with English subtitles. Varsity.

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There are many films about films themselves as makers of our dreams and collective memories. Leos Carax's thrilling, disarmingly surreal cinematic adventure, "Holy Motors," a prizewinner at Cannes, is also a movie about movies. But it is far from sentimental.

Instead, Carax ("The Lovers on the Bridge") focuses on our deeper, voyeuristic relationship to films as vicarious experiences, a series of alternative lives we live watching malleable actors inhabit different identities and stories on screen.

Carax rides that subconscious theme with wild but knowing abandon in the strange odyssey of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), whose job it is to travel around Paris day and night keeping a series of "appointments" as different characters in various guises.

Sitting in the back of a white limousine that also serves as a dressing room, Oscar dons costumes and makeup, venturing into the streets as a stooped beggar woman, a sewer-dwelling savage, a brokenhearted lover, an assassin, a dying old man and much more.

Meanwhile, the world, seemingly an aggregate of disposable realities, appears to await Oscar's many characters to complete or alter pre-existing scenes. Playing an emotionally abusive father, Oscar finds a waiting car, picks up his character's daughter, drives her around, berates her, forces her from the car, then leaves her devastated on a street corner. On to the next appointment.

There's no explanation for any of this, no clue as to what happens next — if there is a next. All this random action, Carax suggests, is for some vast, abstract audience anxious to lose itself in imagined narratives.

The cast includes Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue and, most meaningfully, Edith Scob, whose eerie, green mask recalls her role in the 1960 French horror classic "Eyes Without a Face." Other shadows of past cinematic lives, too, haunt "Holy Motors," where identities come and go for our bittersweet entertainment.

Tom Keogh:

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