The film festival's finale is a French freak-out of famous faces. Helen Barlow reports.

Veteran French actor Denis Lavant didn't lack for variety when he was cast in Holy Motors by his old friend, eccentric French director Leos Carax. He plays a dozen characters in the film, including a beggar woman, a dying old man, a knife-wielding killer and a filthy gnome dragging a supermodel (Eva Mendes) through the city's sewers.

And for co-stars, he has everybody from Mendes to Kylie Minogue to a group of bonobo chimpanzees.

The primates were the most difficult to work with.

"I had to take one of them up in my arms and he refused point-blank to be picked up," Lavant recalls in rapid-fire French.


"Suddenly, in the eyes of that monkey, I saw a sign of madness and wildness. They were much more robust than my other acting partners and I really was quite scared. I had to overcome my fears and try to be as natural as possible."

Not that there's anything natural about Holy Motors, a surreal dream of a movie, which divided opinion when it screened in Cannes in May, as have previous Carax films like Pola X and his best-known film, 1991's controversial Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (The Lovers on The Bridge).

Carax's insistence on constructing a replica of the oldest Parisian bridge in the south of France resulted in a protracted shoot and a spiralling budget which, having earned a him a reputation of being "difficult", forced him into an eight-year exile.

Holy Motors depicts a day in the life of Lavant's Monsieur Oscar, who is driven around Paris in a stretch limo by Celine (Edith Scob) as he goes to his daily role-playing appointments.

Each of the roles seems to represents an homage to a different genre of cinema with a different actor - Mendes plays the speechless model in a horror scene and Minogue appears in an ode to musicals.

Living in his somewhat rarified world, Carax had never heard of Minogue.

He had, however, heard her duet with Nick Cave, Where the Wild Roses Grow, and they had a mutual friend, film-maker Claire Denis, who suggested her for his film.

To her credit the Australian singer and Francophile was up for anything. Can't Get You Out of My Head became a kind of anthem in the film and she supported her media-shy director at Cannes.

"I was nervous but I just had to trust Leos and I did," Minogue says.

"I was ready to jump off La Samaritaine, which eventually happened. Leos didn't give a lot of direction. He said a lot by saying very little."

Lavant enjoyed his time working with Minogue. "It has been a wonderful opportunity both artistically and on a human relationship basis to work with Kylie ... and we spoke very little because I speak hardly any English but we were able, however, to communicate beyond words.

"It was beautiful to make up this story that he possibly had a child with this woman and although it's a very tragic moment, when I saw the movie for the first time I realised it's a moment that is full of sunshine, because she manages to lighten up the whole scene."

What: Holy Motors, the official closing night film of the New Zealand International Film Festival
Who: Directed by Leos Carax and starring Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes and Denis Lavant
When and where: Saturday, 9.15pm (and tomorrow 3.45pm)

- TimeOut