Denis Lavant

michael-kohlhaas

Arnaud des Pallieres’ take on Heinrich von Kleist’s novella, Michael Kohlhaas, has all the makings of a riveting, party-crashing entry into the Cannes Film Festival’s In Competition banner, what with its focus on adventure and righteous vengeance. Disappointing it is, then, that while it features Mads Mikkelsen in as game a mode as ever, and the landscapes are sumptuously shot, the soporific narrative pulse has kept this oddly forgettable film clear of festival discussion pretty much altogether, which many could argue is even worse than it being an alright flop. The story begins as the titular character (Mikkelsen), a merchant, is forced by a local Baron (Swann Arlaud) to relinquish two of his prized horses as collateral on the way to the market due to him not having the proper documentation. When Kohlhaas returns to discover that the steeds are of ill health and Cesar (David Bennent), the man he left behind to tend for them, has been attacked by the Baron’s guard dogs, he seeks reparations from the courts. However, given the Baron’s social stature, Kohlhaas loses the case immediately. Devastatingly, his wife, Judith (Delphine Chuillot), also winds up murdered while travelling to plea the case, and so Michael teams up with the local social outcasts to launch an attack against the Baron and his army.

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Movie Scene of 2012

Whether you loved it, hated it, or were scratching your head all the way through, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is a memorable film. This disjointed, manic work is one of the most original and boundary-pushing movies of the year, avoiding anything resembling narrative coherence and conventional character development. It also features an amazing lead performance by Denis Lavant as a huge cast of unusual characters. While many moments in the film stand out – the motion capture sex scene, Eva Mendes’s abduction by Lavant’s sewer-dwelling goblin, Kylie Minogue’s touch of tragedy through song – perhaps the film’s most exhilarating moment was its musical intermission, in which Lavant leads a band through an old cathedral where they collectively rock out with their accordions out. Even amongst the FSR staff who weren’t as taken by this film as I was (his name rhymes with Rob Hunter), we mostly agreed that this scene stands out, even in a film (and a year of films) with many great scenes to choose from.

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Holy Motors

Have you spent the past month or so hearing whispers about some movie called Holy Motors, and how someone you know has seen it at this festival or that, and how it’s probably the most amazing movie of all time, but you still haven’t really gotten a good idea of what it is or what it’s about? Then you’re in luck, because a trailer promoting the film’s U.S. release has just hit the net, and now we can all get a glimpse of what festival goers have been raving about. The latest film from French writer/director Leos Carax, Holy Motors is said to be about a day in the life of a character named Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), a mysterious figure who is able to jump from one life to the next. That’s the gist of the official synopsis, at least. But it only takes a couple seconds of getting into this trailer to realize that Holy Motors is the sort of abstract, fantastical film that refuses to be adequately summed up with a synopsis.

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There is a theory that Fellini’s La Dolce Vita is structured, quite schematically, like Dante’s Inferno. The idea is that this three hour film can be broken down into nine significant episodes, one for each of the layers of Hell. It doesn’t really work without ignoring some sequences and fudging the math, but no matter. Complicated and almost conspiratorial interpretations of movies will always abound; one need look no further than Shining conspiracy documentary Room 237, also playing this installment of the New York Film Festival. Yet sometimes a movie comes along that seems to dare the audience to come up with intricate analyses, to start cranking away even before the credits have rolled. Intentionally or otherwise, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is one of those challenges.

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The Paperboy John Cusack

Last year’s Cannes Film Festival featured this year’s Oscar winning Best Actor performance thanks to the inclusion of the wonderful The Artist in competition, and though the films seem to have been chosen for their artistry and provocative subtexts more than any really commercial pointers (as always happens the year after the festival is deemed “too commercial”), there have been some seriously fine performances this year as well. There wasn’t an Uggy this year, but there was a murdered pooch in Moonrise Kingdom, a bitey Killer Whale in Rust & Bone, and a striking performance from an armadillo in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Me and You, so we’ll have to wait and see who emerges with the best animal performance. Probably won’t come from Madagascar 3 though…so for the time being, let’s stick to the humans.

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Holy Motors Movie Leos Carax

The question is, do you open the sack? Simon’s review from Cannes praises the positive brand of bat-shit insanity that Leos Carax‘s latest flick, Holy Motors, has going for it: “Really, the film is no more than a Kafkaesque short story idea, stretched out into a high-high-concept film that is baffling, infuriating and brilliant in equal measure. It will undoubtedly pick up five star reviews, and the only restraint on this review comes from my own refusal to cast off the conventional entertainment gauge: it’s hard to imagine anyone enjoying their popcorn when confronted with a naked man with an erection eating Eva Mendes‘s hair.” The trailer has a violent tone to it, a dangerous smoke that lingers, something felt but not always seen. There is an angry potential to it (hence the cat simile). Essentially, it feels like the kind of movie that dares you to see it. Check out the trailer for yourself, and get ready to scratch your head:

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Holy Motors Leos Carax

Cannes films have a tendency to provoke reaction, with selections chosen for their impact more often than any conventionally commercial appeal, and as a result, responses from those who attend tend to polarize. In that context, it is no surprise that Leos Carax‘s weird and wonderful Holy Motors was chosen to screen In Competition, judging by the number of walk-outs and the final standing ovation. The film follows Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), an inexplicable figure who is driven around Paris in a stretch limousine by his chauffeur Celine (Edith Scob), fulfilling “assignments” around the city. The angle is that Mr. Oscar is an actor, and his assignments are characters, each requiring precise and preposterous costumes as he seeks the ultimate performance, in front of invisible characters for an unknown audience. As the film progresses, Mr. Oscar advances through his list of jobs – an old beggar woman, an assassin, a businessman, a father, a dying old man, a deranged, violent monster who eats flowers and kidnaps supermodels – committing himself entirely to the art of character. We are never afforded an insight to who he really is, how he came to be, or even whether there is any reality in any of the situations at all.

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