I'm bathing in the glory of movies this week. Fantastic Fest, with films from all over the planet, with no genre untouched, no subject matter unexamined, has never failed to broaden my horizons and deepen my film enthusiasm. This week, I may have seen two films that have changed my life. To call them masterpieces seems oddly reductive, because I know for many people that's subjective. But, frankly, I don't give a shit. I cannot put these movies away in my mind, and I truly believe that 2012 has seen two of the most challenging, rewarding, flat-out amazing movies ever made. And they both will likely fail at the box office.
I might be wrong, but I don't think so. American moviegoers are lazy. Anything remotely challenging, whether to their self-bloated sense of morality or their anti-intellectualism, is ostracized and thrown to the wayside. I'm not even coming from a place of elitism here either. I fully admit to loving the occasional superhero movie that comes down the pipe, the fun genre movie. But when a movie comes along that makes me feel alive, like CLOUD ATLAS and HOLY MOTORS did this week, I have to stand back and acknowledge the amazing skill and abilities of the filmmakers. Both movies are, to put it bluntly, two of the best films to have been made in years. Perhaps I'm being too cynical about American moviegoers, who have been known to surprise me. There is indeed a hunger for the new and it's quite possible that audiences will embrace these films. God, I hope so.
You can't come at HOLY MOTORS from a casual moviegoer standpoint. The movie requires you to engage with it - intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. The first few hours after I saw it, I still wasn't sure exactly what it was that I saw. I kept trying to crack the code, so to speak, trying to figure the movie out, trying to understand the angles. I won't lie, I was intimidated by the movie, and by fellow reviewers' reactions to it. Ever since Cannes, it has been a film on my radar, and as Fantastic Fest drew closer, I was concerned that I wouldn't "get it."
I needn't have worried. Of course I wasn't going to get it. HOLY MOTORS is an incredibly dense movie, but at the same time it requires the audience to experience it and not be so concerned with how everything works. Leos Carax, a filmmaker whose work I was not familiar with before this movie, has made a film about the movie between the frames, a non-linear breakdown of cinema that comes from a place of love, fascination, and humility to the power of cinema itself, and it requires you to engage.
So what is HOLY MOTORS about? It's about the power of cinema to tell stories, and how even the filmmaker can feel trapped in the various worlds that he creates, but that he must continue because he has no choice in the matter. Oscar (Denis Levant) takes the multiple roles that the audience demands - we are the observer, and demand that each scene play out and gives us catharsis, any kind of catharsis, and Oscar must go from setpiece to setpiece, playing to the gods. Whether it's a green-suited troll eating flowers, or a man on his deathbed, or another man stepping into a musical, Oscar must perform, telling his stories to feed a neverending hunger from the audience.
HOLY MOTORS is a movie about catharsis. Not just our own, but the filmmaker's as well. And it will not be easily explained. People demanding onean explanation will be disappointed, and they should be - this movie is better than that. HOLY MOTORS is an experience, a cinematic feast, so dense and rewarding that I'm nervous seeing it again because I will lose that magic feeling I got when I first saw it. It is like no other movie that I've experienced before, and I will experience it again. It is joyous and a celebration of everything that I love about cinema.
And now, an interval:
CLOUD ATLAS is also dense, but it builds into moments of beauty and optimism. These days, the optimism that Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Twyker's movie puts boldly on display is almost a revolutionary act. With its multiple storylines and genres, and actors playing multiple roles, races, and sexes, CLOUD ATLAS will come across to some as overly complicated. It isn't. The directors weave each story like a tapestry - a symphony, if you prefer, and CLOUD ATLAS has movements, highs and lows, and the way the movie is edited together gives the audience such an emotional ride that in the end we are full of the film's beauty.
To break the movie down to its essential plot, like HOLY MOTORS, is doing the movie a disadvantage. It is also a movie that should be experienced, but unlike HOLY MOTORS, CLOUD ATLAS takes us on a journey through genres and through storytelling itself. Some characters are good, some evil (and some played by the same actor), and each story has its own build and climax. But each scene is edited in a way that comments on the scene before it, and this gives CLOUD ATLAS the feeling that it is all truly one story, one catharsis, one singular experience.
This is the best work these directors have ever done. It's not even a question. CLOUD ATLAS wants to change you. It wants to show you a world of infinite glory and love, love that literally has no boundaries, a shared experience through the centuries and through space, and even through genre. It was the perfect film for this fest, a film festival that celebrates challenging cinema and genre. It is a singular work and both HOLY MOTORS and CLOUD ATLAS are why I love cinema and the infinite possibilities that it represents. What an amazing week.