I first saw Holy Motors as part of Fantastic Fest in September. I wrote a brief summary that pretty much just amounted to “see this film.” As it is currently in the middle of a limited run across the county, I decided that it was time for a follow-up.
I’m not going to attempt to summarize Holy Motors. Trying to tie it up into a bite-sized package just doesn’t work. People have tried, and they always fail. None of the synopses that I have read have gotten it right. Everything I have read grabs on to elements of the plot, but makes them sound more important than they actually are. The true essence of this film is what lies underneath. I encourage you to see this film as blank as possible. Try not to learn too much about it ahead of time, and just go in prepared to experience it.
I was extremely happy to see it open in Seattle and to have the opportunity to experience this brilliant, amazing film again. As excited as I was to be there, and as much as I still enjoyed the film the second time around the experience was a little disappointing this time. The presentation was lackluster: the print was scratched, the colors were washed out, the sound system kept flattening out and we even lost picture at one point. I am truly sorry for anyone experiencing the film for the first time under such circumstances.
The other problem, though, was the audience. While they were quiet and respectful (a fact I am extremely grateful for, since I didn’t anticipate them being so well-behaved when I arrived), I couldn’t help but feel that they just weren’t on board. The air didn’t have the same electricity as that theater at the Drafthouse where I first saw the film. The energy just wasn’t the same. They weren’t excited.
My husband and I discussed the experience at length after we left, and we came to this simple conclusion: Films like Holy Motors need to be screened not in a theater, but in a Cathedral. In a place filled with like-minded people who have come together to celebrate and worship at the altar that is cinema. Not to mindlessly walk in and blindly accept whatever is given to them, mind you, but to take in the story being told with an open mind. To be an active participant in the events unfolding. A place like Fantastic Fest. A place like Cannes, where Holy Motors premiered to thunderous applause. Not exclusively festivals, but places where people come to not only experience film, but to be overcome by it. To be taken away by it.
Films like Holy Motors require more than just passive viewing. This isn’t a movie that you can go into, sit for a couple of hours, have everything given to you and then walk out to discuss it with your tweed-wearing friends over a bowl of pho. Films like this require you to give something too. You have to allow yourself to be open to the experience. Because Holy Motors is an experience. Everything you love about the medium is encapsulated and celebrated on that screen, and it wants to take you by the hand and lead you on a crazy little adventure. But it requires you to take the hand that is offered and to be a willing and eager participant in that journey. It’s not going to drag you. It requires a leap of faith on your part. That your surrender to it and open your heart for a couple of hours and really let it in.
This has been a really great year for film. Moonrise Kingdom, The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Cloud Atlas, Argo…the list goes on and on. So many brilliant movies have been released recently that have touched my brain and my heart. But Holy Motors got into my soul. And it lives there now. And it is amazing. And I am so happy to have had the experience not only of seeing it, but of sharing it with my people. With my congregation. This film is everything we love and treasure about cinema and seeing it is a unique experience. But you have to be open to it. You have to open your heart and let it in and let it touch you.
So when the opportunity to see this film presents itself, get together a group of your favorite cinephile friends and go in ready to experience something completely new and wonderful. Embrace the moment. Give in to the experience.