Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Denis Lavant gives an extraordinary shape-shifting performance in 'Holy Motors'

Lavant wows as a man who impersonates 11 different people in the course of a day.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / November 16, 2012

Eva Mendes stars in 'Holy Motors.'

Gus Ruelas/Reuters


The anarchic French director Leos Carax last directed a film 13 years ago, “Pola X,” which in a roundabout way derived from Herman Melville’s novel “Pierre.” I suspect his new film, “Holy Motors,” is also tinged with Melville – in this case his novel “The Confidence-Man.”

Skip to next paragraph

“Holy Motors” is about Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant, in an extraordinary, shape-shifty performance), who impersonates 11 different personas in the course of the same day. His limo driver (Edith Scob) chauffeurs him on a series of “appointments” in which he dresses up as an old beggar woman, a madman in a street market, an assassin, and so on. The limo is  equipped with a full dressing room of costumes and props and his charades, which range from roisterous to supremely creepy, last far into the night.

This is the kind of it-can-mean-whatever-you-want-it-to-mean art film that I usually run from, but Carax is such a prodigiously gifted mesmerist that, if you give way, you’re likely to be enfolded in the film’s phantasmagoria. It’s a movie about, among things, movies, but it expresses a wondrousness and dread that make it far more than a cinéaste’s exercise. It’s also much better than that other back-of-the-limo movie this year, David Cronenberg’s stultifying “Cosmopolis.” Grade: B+ (Unrated.)


  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!