Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Movies that make you feel something

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A scene from Holy Motors showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Photo / Supplied
A scene from Holy Motors showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Photo / Supplied

When it comes to movies, my top priority is story. Everything on screen has a role to play of course, but what I'm mostly looking for is a ripping yarn.

But some films don't set out to tell a story. Some films place plot in a secondary position and focus on engaging the viewer to feel the movie, as opposed to merely watching it.

These films have the same instruments as a traditional film, but seek to create a more sensory experience.

There have always been movies that conform to this description. Sometimes they are called "art films", other times they're called "music videos". I'm generalising wildly of course, and it could be argued that on some level ALL films possess what I am describing, but the last few decades have seen the release of several notable large scale movies that aim to provide a singular sensory experience.

Holy Motors - which is playing at this year's film festival - appears to be one such film, and I am greatly looking forward to experiencing it with a crowd on the big screen in the cavernous darkness of the Civic.

Set in Paris and comprising a narrative that has something to do with living and dying (go ahead and try to make sense of the trailer), the film stars the craggy-faced Frenchman Denis Lavant.

Lavant has a long-standing working relationship with Holy Motors director Leos Carax, but may still be most recognisable for his starring role in the amazing music video for Unkle's Rabbit In Your Headlight - you know the one, where a homeless-looking guy gets repeatedly smashed up by cars on a busy street. It's pretty great.

A lot of the reaction to Holy Motors has cited Gaspar Noé's dazzling 2010 film Enter The Void, a sensory movie if ever there was one. It was my experience watching this film at the Civic during the festival of a few years ago that has me so excited for Holy Motors.

Although something may be lost watching it on a small screen, Enter The Void absolutely demands to be experienced. As best I can tell, it hasn't garnered any sort of DVD release in this country, but you can get it through Amazon.

In the Guardian's review of Holy Motors quoted in the festival booklet, critic Peter Bradshaw says that the film recalls "Gaspar Noé's Kubrickian head-trips". In addition to being a clear influence on Noé, Stanley Kubrick is one of very few directors who managed to release one of these sensory films through the studio system - 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

With no character throughline and an extremely esoteric sense of plot, it falls upon the sensory aspects of 2001 to make an impact, and boy do they, particularly in the nutso final 20 minutes.

So what other examples are there of mainstream films that put this kind of sensory experience ahead of character or plot?

Lots of films incorporate such elements - Ken Russell's 1980 cult classic Altered States, Darren Aronofsky's 1998 debut Pi, David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch - but it's rare to see a high profile film willing to commit to such an ideal.

It feels like cheating to count all the '60s trip out movies - and the same exclusion applies to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - but most of David Lynch's work puts mood and feeling far ahead of logic and plot.

You could argue a case for Natural Born Killers, Donnie Darko or even Trainspotting.

They're very different to Enter The Void (and no doubt Holy Motors) but I very much consider 1982's Koyannisqatsi and 1992's Baraka to be part of the modern canon of films that you feel rather than watch.

Phillip Glass' legendary soundtrack for Koyannisqatsi has entrenched itself in popular culture and was utilised to great effect by Zack Snyder in his underrated Watchmen film.

The film festival is a great opportunity to see films like this on the big screen amongst likeminded souls, so be sure to check out Holy Motors. It's gonna be mental!

* Are you amped for Holy Motors? What are some other examples of films that you feel? Comment below!

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