Like most things in director Leos Carax's dementedly beautiful "Holy Motors," the "holy" of the title is not really explained but it could be shorthand for "Holy crap! What is going on here?"
That's as good an interpretation as any, and there will probably be as many interpretations of Carax's surreal vignettes as there are people who watch them.
Here's the basic synopsis: Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) leaves his home for work one morning and boards the limousine waiting for him. The limo's driver, Celine (Edith Scob), tells M. Oscar that he has several appointments lined up that day, and he reads the file to prepare for the first one. Then he starts changing his wardrobe and applying makeup.
In a matter of minutes, the limo arrives alongside the Seine, and M. Oscar emerges as a hunched-over bag lady. He walks down the street for a while in this getup, then gets back in the limo. He removes the old-lady disguise and dons a black unitard with small plastic beads attached as the limo drives him to a motion-capture studio.
This process repeats itself as M. Oscar assumes a variety of roles, from a crazed sewer dweller who kidnaps a fashion model (Eva Mendes) to an old man on his deathbed.
There's one scene where M. Oscar listens to a woman (played by pop star Kylie Minogue) pour her heart out in song. There's even an intermission, with Lavant leading a dance-worthy accordion jam.
The only thing the scenes have in common, besides Lavant's brilliant performances, is that each scenario is different from the ones preceding it.
The vignettes seem to capture M. Oscar's characters at their most vulnerable moments, or as catalyst for other people's catharsis. But just when you think you've got Carax's motives pinned down, he throws another surprise at you.
You may love "Holy Motors." You may hate it. You may love it, see it again, and then hate it or vice versa. But I guarantee you won't forget a head-scratching moment of it.
One man assumes many roles in this weird and beautiful French drama.
Where • Tower Theatre.
When • Opens Friday, Dec. 14.
Rating • Not rated, but probably R for sexuality, violence and language.
Running time • 116 minutes; mostly in French, with subtitles.