Fantastic Fest Day 2 & 3: Graceland and Holy Motors


Setting forth on Day 2 of Fantastic Fest, my hopes were high for a packed schedule of multiple films I was very excited to see. Unfortunately, fate is a fickle bitch. After securing a really great spot in the online ticketing system, a server error kicked many of my colleagues and I back to the far end of the line. Ultimately, I managed to secure a ticket to only one film, but it was worth the headache regardless.

Graceland, the newest acquisition by Drafthouse Films, is a damn good thriller in the tradition of early Michael Mann and David Fincher, something either director would be proud to have made. The film follows a driver for a wealthy congressman in the Philippines named Marlon, whose daughter and her best friend (the daughter of the congressman) are abducted by kidnappers who intend to hold them for ransom. From there, Marlon is led down the rabbit hole into the darkest corners of the criminal underbelly in a race against time to get his daughter back from the kidnappers. But everything is not as it seems.

To say more would be a disservice to the story. Not because it’s especially twisty, but because the truly shocking moments stand out amongst an otherwise very straightforward film. Forgoing any ham-fisted social commentary about the state of poverty, crime, or sex trafficking in the Philippines, the script stays firmly focused on the characters and their plight. It’s a refreshingly brisk and focused thriller in an age of bloated and padded American counterparts, and a terrific new acquisition for Drafthouse Films.

Speaking of straightforward, Leos Carax’s newest film, Holy Motors is anything but. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it one of the most opaque and impenetrable films I’ve ever seen. Which is really just a long way of saying that without the proper cinematic and historical knowledge going in, it’s a bunch of beautifully made nonsense.

I’d tell you what the film was about, but that’s the problem. There is no story. The log line is that the film follows a wealthy and obviously important man named Oscar as he travels throughout Paris in his limo to various “appointments”, assuming a new identity for each on via heavy prosthetic makeup and method acting. The problem is that the film never once goes into the why of any of it. There’s no character motivation, context, or any semblance of a narrative to even begin to give the viewer a chance to follow what’s happening.

Allegedly, the film is about Carax’s own way of dealing with depression after his wife committed suicide, and how he dealt with the grief by exploring his life through various different films. That’s all fine and good, but without explicit knowledge of the films Holy Motors references, or of Carax’s personal life, the film has zero impact or context. It’s just a series of nonsensical vignettes that occur for no reason.

I’m sure Holy Motors plays much better for those with that kind of knowledge going in, but as someone who without knowing the back-story or references of the film, it felt like taking an advanced college course without ever having taken a prerequisite. That’s a major issue. If the film can’t stand on its own, it has failed as a piece of basic storytelling. It’s not a bad film, it’s just incredibly French.


About Author

Austin Film Critic. I am a blogger, critic, and writer living in Austin, TX. I first became serious about film after seeing The Lord of the Rings trilogy in its original theatrical run between 2001 and 2003. Since then, film has become my life and there's no better job than writing about what I love.

  • Antho42

    ” That’s a major issue. If the film can’t stand on its own, it has failed as a piece of basic storytelling.”
    Not really. You need to know the history of European thought and literature to understand Ulysses. It does not mean that it is a failure in basic storytelling — some art requires more outside context than others. If that is true, some of the greatest works of art (literature, paintings, films, etc) would be label as failures.

  • Keeping my eye out for this Graceland.