(Extra Credit) Holy Motors as Art Film

While Holy Motors may seem self-evident and undeniable in its presence as an Art Film, examining where it aligns and clashes with Bordwell’s description of art cinema can provide interesting insights both into Holy Motors and why art cinema can be coherently defined.

One of the main ways Holy Motors conforms to an art film classification is via its wholly goalless protagonist. Though we get to spend the entire film in his presence, we don’t ever get to see exactly what he wants beyond the briefest of hints in a rapid-fire conversation with Piccoli in the middle of the film. Instead, Monseuir Oscar acts more clearly as the viewpoint character as we get to have an “encyclopedic survey of the film’s world”, a surreal milieu which is consistently intriguing to explore for the entire act’s runtime. His goalnessness serves the film’s form, as by not having him want anything except to meagerly act out his role, he gets to fill the function of a tour guide. As Bordwell says in Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice, “The drifting protagonist traces the literary”.

However, included in Bordwell’s definition of art cinema is his claim that though art cinema protagonists may often be slow to act, they are “telling all”, and that art cinema is fascinated with psychological effects, on their characters.

In contrast, Monsieur Oscar is effectively mute throughout the entire duration of the film. Instead of lacking goals but giving insight into his psychology, both his true goals and true underlying psychology are kept distant from the viewer.

Although this may make the film seemingly crumble in viewing it as an art film, this actually aids it as once again the role is being used coherently within the film’s function. As the film is a commentary on film without cameras, keeping us out of the character’s internal psychology allows for the multitude of twists when we think we are being given the top layer of reality but instead are served another trick, blurring the line between reality and fiction.

As such, though Holy Motors may seem to squander one of the important requisites of Art Cinema, a deeper look at the functions requiring fulfilment within the film shows its consistency.

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