Carax regular Denis Lavant (The Lovers on the Bridge) is front and center of this weird, wonderful ride as the mysterious Mr. Oscar, who’s driven to his “appointments” in a limo by Céline (Edith Scob, Eyes Without a Face). For this particular day, there are about 10 of them, each finding Mr. Oscar assuming an entirely new identity. He spends the interim driving time applying elaborate makeup.
For example, he has a stint as a hunched-over female beggar before donning a motion-capture suit in a studio for some pornographic video game. He’s a father scolding his daughter after picking her up from a party; he’s a hit man in a track suit; he’s reminiscing with a past lover (singer Kylie Minogue) as they traipse through an abandoned building as she sings a lovely ballad.
Perhaps most notably, horrifyingly and comically, the wiry, malleable Lavant becomes the milky-eyed sewer troll he played in Carax’s segment of the 2008 triptych film Tokyo!, but here falling for (and licking the armpit of) a fashion model (Eva Mendes, The Other Guys).
My favorite sequence, however, is strictly musical: a brief accordion jam presented as an intermission. It’s the kind of “why not?” scene that Carax threads throughout the picture, allowing Lavant to play around with the Parisian architecture and locales a little like Jacques Tati in 1967’s Playtime. Lavant’s performance(s) is a tour de force — and occasionally tour de farce: beguiling, playful, profane and, yes, not without a pinch of pretension. Oh, and there’s also a monkey.
What does it all mean? Hell if I know. Maybe nothing. But it’s visual dynamite: the kind of story that can be told only by the cinema, assuming it’s a story at all. —Rod Lott