Holy Motors – Behind the scenes with Leos Carax

The most confusing movie of the year is finally here!

Holy Motors was one of the most surprising and confusing movies that we saw at the Cannes Film Festival this year. The film, which opens in Irish cinemas this weekend follows a man who travels between multiple and parallel characters, leaving the audience to wonder, who is the real man? Movies.ie caught up with director Leos Carax and the cast of Holy Motors at the press conference…

Kylie, how did you meet Leos Carax?
I can tell you how we met, through a mutual friend. We have a mutual friend, Claire Denis, and she suggested we met. We met, had a lunch and yes, it is a bizarre movie for us too, no one expected that we would work together. I think the only thing that Leos knew of me was my duet with Nick Cave – Where The Wild Roses Grow – so it was a fresh start; he wasn’t clouded by everything else that I do. I was just hoping that we would get on and I would be part of the film.
Leos Carax: Well I agree with what Kylie said. A year ago I didn’t know Kylie; I knew her name, I knew the duet and I had a project in London. I was looking for an actress and people talked to me about Kylie. That project didn’t work, and I thought about Kylie for this one. This meeting is one of the first things that happened in the filmmaking.

Kylie, how does this experience inspire your stage performance?
It was, overall, a very beautiful experience. Obviously, I am used to a very different world, which is pop music, but I began acting at the start of my career, so it was nice to come back to that. When we first met and I understood there would be some singing in the film, I said ‘That will be pre-recorded and we will mime it in the scene?’ and he said ‘No, we will do it live in the scene’ and that was magic to me. I just thought; ‘Wow!’ I don’t think that happens very often so it was a chance to combine the two, but in a way to try to take everything away and be as open as I could for Leos and for the character and for the performance in the scene.

Leos, what was the initial idea of the film and how did it develop from that?
I pass bridges every day and this old gypsy woman with a hunched back was there. For years I have passed these women and never talked to them, I rarely give them money and I thought there is absolutely no communication possible between this woman and me, I wouldn’t know how to do it. Then, I don’t know why, I had this image that it was me and I had a driver who would drive me places and I would go to a café and change into the old woman. I could see myself doing that.

Leos, what do you hope audiences take from the film?
I can’t say anything about it because I haven’t seen the film; I just shot it. I don’t know who is the public; it’s a bunch of people who will be dead very soon. I don’t make public films, I make private films then invite whoever wants to come and see it.
KM: I haven’t seen the film either, but I would say from reading the script and the few days I was on the film, I did get to thinking… For example; you have just asked us a question. Are you here for 10 minutes as you? Are you going to go off and become someone else? And how we present ourselves in the world in different moments. If I can try to be as overall as that… It’s a lot deeper, but that’s a very brief answer.

Denis, in terms of Monsieur Oscar, he plays many different characters in the film, and almost all the men except for Michel Piccoli’s character. Was this something you had thought about from the outset?
Yes indeed. It was the part I played in the film. I was to be several different people. Some people say 11 or 12. In my contract there were 10 characters, plus the character who is portraying all these characters, so maybe that’s 11 and a half because there is one additional character. Then there are characters who you can read in between the lines. One character is neither here nor there; he is in his pyjamas, he has his wig on, which was what he used when he was dying in the hotel room with his niece present, then he turns into a worker turning up back home after a long day’s work. So there is a whole series of characters and characters in characters if I remember correctly.

Leos, there are a lot of cinematic references in the film, is this a film about the history of cinema?
Every film is… I have always hated the word ‘reference’, but obviously if you decide to live in the island of cinema, it is a beautiful island and it has a big cemetery, so sometimes you go to the cemetery but sometimes you go and have a drink; that’s life. If you feel the film is about cinema, it’s not a conscious process. When you make a film, you make cinema.

Leos, the film is a bit like a Russian Doll, do you have a set screenplay or do you improvise with the actors?
It is a special film. It was conjured up very quickly, imagined very fast. I conjured this up out of my imagination for Denis. Of course, I am not a writer; I don’t write the screenplays. I take notes, which then turn into a script, because you have to have a screenplay to get the money. Then we tried to ensure that the film springs to life. We don’t want to just have the impression that things are happening in a studio, we want them to look like they are in real life, so things start out by being written and then they spring to life.

Leos, what was it like to work with Eva Mendes?
I met Eva at a festival. The character was imagined because we had another project for Kate Moss and that fell through. I met Eva Mendes and we decided to work together. Our previous project didn’t have anything to do with models; I just thought Kate Moss was a good choice.

Leos, where did the idea for the end scene with the cars come from?
Gradually, when I started imagining the film, I had a feeling that there was a sort of solidarity between the character played by Denis, animals and machines. There were monkeys in the film and then the machines, these limousines and that’s why I called the film Holy Motors. We have incredible motors within ourselves, both we, as human beings and animals too. I felt there could be a more virtual world. I wanted to end the film – having depicted animals and people – I wanted the machines to talk as well. I like machines. I like motors. I like the word ‘action’. This is not a word we use much any more, there are no motors in cameras any more, you have to say ‘power’ but I think it’s an artificial power.

Denis, which of the characters did you find the strangest?
all of the characters were very special and they were all difficult to portray. They were all total unknowns except for one who I had already met in Tokyo. Monsieur Merde is someone we all have within ourselves that was the only known character. The others were total unknowns to me. I didn’t have much time to get under the skin of each character. Each character was difficult in a different way. Leos was a bit afraid of some of the characters. There was one area we hadn’t explored much; the more realistic side to the film, like the father with his daughter, the old man who is dying. That is very strange because this is an area we had never explored together in Boy Meets Girl or Tokyo. There is one scene where I had to have a lot of presence and I had to have a lot of confidence and be quite cold blooded… In this kind of film everything is based on trust; you have to have trust in the story, you have to have trust in the person behind the camera, you have to trust yourself as well. One of the scenes that scared me most was the last one; with the two monkeys. That was a bit scary because whoever you are playing with in a film there are a lot of things that are unknown but there is an unacknowledged code; we share the same code of communication between human beings but when you are acting with a monkey it is much more difficult. They had a trainer, but the trainer had a very affectionate relationship with them. I had to take one of them into my arms and the monkey didn’t want to be picked up, she was scared and she refused to be picked up. Suddenly, in the eyes of that monkey I saw a sign of madness, of wildness and they are very robust, I am nothing compared to them. I was really quite scared, but I always get stage fright, that is just part of the game. I was scared but we shot the scene and I really had to condition myself and overcome my fear and be as natural as possible.

Words – Brogen Hayes

HOLY MOTORS hits Irish cinemas on Sept 28th