Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies

NO SPOILERS.

Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies

At a time when Hollywood is choosing superheroes and public domain properties for their blockbusters and critics are pondering what the future of Cinema might be, two movies come out at the same time embodying the state of the art.

Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies

CLOUD ATLAS is the heavily-hyped multimillion-dollar adaptation of David Mitchell's upmarket Science Fiction novel directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tywker. Without spoilers, it is a piece of mainstream arthouse cinema made by filmmakers normally used to making mainstream action movies. They're clearly striving for something more than just big explosions and action money shots. Rather than plot, there is an overall theme: that everyone is interconnected across Time and Space, so people shouldn't be shitty to each other.

In the same way THE MATRIX was a compendium of action movie tropes up to that point in movie history, you could see CLOUD ATLAS as a compendium of arthouse movie tropes for the last decade. It utilizes the most common arthouse plot of the last decade or so: the "everyone is connected so we shouldn't be mean to each other" plot that has fuelled the story of movies like AMORES PERROS, 21 GRAMS, CRASH and countless other movies from both Western and Eastern Europe, and using every single technical and technological trick available. My problem with the movie is that all those special effects and impressively elaborate show-off camera moves threaten to overshadow the story and the emotion the filmmakers sincerely wanted the audience to experience. This movie cost tens and tens of millions of dollars and every cent was on the screen, but it's also been produced and over-determined within an inch of its life, making it hermetic, closed-off, almost claustrophobic to me. We're meant to feel shock and horror at, say, Halle Berry's car crash, but instead I found myself feeling detached and impressed at the technique with which it was filmed, how they rigged the camera to shoot the whole crash from inside the car right next to Halle Berry.

Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of MoviesLook! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies

There's also been a minor controversy over the use of yellowface in the movie. The odd make-up and yellowface also gave the movie a sense of Brechtian alienation that might not have been planned. You just can't pass Tom Hanks or white actors in cod-Asian make up and expect us to take them seriously. One of the roles was Tom Hanks looking like a hepcat Fu Manchu who's had too many drinks down the pub, and I assume they directors cast Hugo Weaving because they liked working with him, but he looked more convincing as a Vulcan than a future Korean man. No Korean man looks or acts the way he did. I couldn't work out why they cast Jim Sturges as the most unconvincing Korean twentysomething ever when they probably could have cast a popular Korean star and gotten more money from Korean financiers. It's probably quite telling that they didn't have any white actors in blackface. That said, I found the yellowfish too kitsch and hilarious to get mad over, since it was so naff, and frankly, Asians are better off not being in a film about them – they already get to make their own excellent movies in Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea and the rest of Asia to represent themselves as they wish, so they already have their own cultural space. I understood the overall aesthetic decision of the filmmakers, but I don't think it was a successful one since it detracted from their original intentions.

With so many movie tricks nearly overshadowing the story in CLOUD ATLAS, I find myself thinking about the subtext of the movie. I can't help feeling that underneath its basic humanist message, it's really about the process of Cinema itself, the technocratic joy of using technical to create a movie, all the cameras, the special effects, the editing tricks, the multiple roles of single actors, the sheer process of creating a creating a fictional reality that couldn't exist otherwise. It is here that Halle Berry's whiteface, Tom Hanks and their multiple roles and the unintentionally funny yellowface acting makes sense, since role-playing is entirely part of the made-up realities that Cinema creates. Accidentally or not, making movies is CLOUD ATLAS' subtext.

Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies

 

And what was subtext in CLOUD ATLAS is explicit surface text in Leos Carax' HOLY MOTORS. Being a French film and uncompromising as Carax always has been, HOLY MOTORS is explicitly about the process of role-playing, of creating different realities, of jumping from one reality to another. It has a looser, more open, freewheeling vibe in contrast to CLOUD ATLAS' closed-off well-oiled fiction machine. And it addresses directly what the underlying appeal of Movies has always been: creating an appealing fictional world of glamour, beauty, sex, dreams, love and heartbreak. Where CLOUD ATLAS nearly buried feeling and sentiment under its virtuoso technique, HOLY MOTORS uses cinematic technique to highlight the moments of emotional charge that movies create, like the sequence where Kylie Minogue sings a poignant ballad about role-play and lost love. The melancholy of HOLY MOTORS is that it's both a celebration and an elegy for Movies.

Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and The State of Movies

CLOUD ATLAS and HOLY MOTORS make up the most double bill you could possibly make for yourself this year. You should see them both to get a fuller perspective. They're not about the future or the death of Cinema, but its present. The big question is where it can go past this point.

Questioning reality again at lookitmoves@gmail.com

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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