Denis Lavant did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a few critic awards, for portraying Mr. Oscar in Holy Motors.
Denis Lavant's performance here is really the most performance orientated performance of the year. The closest performance I can really think of that is similar to it is Joel Grey in Cabaret. That is to say there really is not really a character arc with his character, because most of what Mr. Oscar does is dress up and turn himself into other characters to fill his appointments. Mr. Oscar is himself a character, but his time is limited and even when there seems to be something that is his it only turns out to be another appointment after all. The strength of this work is really very much the performing he puts into each of these various appointments.
Lavant is a very physical performer here as he creates each of these character per appointment. Lavant makes most of the Cloud Atlas performers seem like rank amateurs compared to his portrayals here. Although in this case it is clear that Oscar is playing each and every one of these characters as he clearly puts on makeup, takes it off, changes his clothes, uses different props to become these various characters, Lavant is seamless in the exchanges. Whenever he goes about becoming a different character no matter what or who it may be he doesn't seem to even blink as he changes one character for the next in a matter of seconds.
Lavant really does it all here in each face and body that he dons. The incredible thing about his performance is he does not just change his make up he himself changes for every single depiction. He changes his way of speaking to illustrate each character, each character that speak that is. He is well changes the body language for each, rarely do any of them quite stand or move the same way. It is remarkable the ease and natural quality he is able to bring to each character, which is quite necessary to pull off each and every character as some of them sort of throw you off guard when it turns out one that seemed so truthful was yet just another character for Mr. Oscar.
It is amazing the way he can go from the stone faced Oscar to any one of these characters. I would say one of the most effective transformations probably is that he goes from basically a monster like man that Lavant gives all the creepiness it deserves along with the unpredictability, but than his next assignment is that of a father trying to deal with his daughter. Lavant starts with a profound intensity as the monster that he creates vividly with his mannered walk, and deranged face. Than he becomes a father with all the warmth required of the man, but he as well reflects the struggle the father has to try to deal with his daughter properly after she lies to him.
It is incredible the way Lavant can be equally effective in both absurdest creation like the monster as he is in the far more down to earth character of the father. Of course it does not end there he can quickly go from even one type of gangster to another, and seem like two entirely different characters. He is able to be the cold brutal gangster mercilessly stabbing a man than setting up the corpse as himself, just as easily as a totally manic one who goes out randomly on the street shooting man. Again he portrays each with the same efficiency same, energy, and a great deal of style that is certainly something fascinating to watch.
Lavant just keeps going with this performance, and no matter what the situation he nails whatever he is required for whether it a song number, a bizarre motion capture performance the last moments of a dying man, or even a man who lives with monkeys. There never is a flop for him he just gives every single character its own unique style fitting to the situation. This film is a cluster of things, and the only overlying thing is the general oddity of it all. Lavant acts as the most strange type of anchor, as we can hardly identify with a man who is constantly changing his personality, but what Lavant does is he meets each tone no matter how much it may switch.
There is a sort of a more of a traditional anchor which is when Lavant is in the base form as Mr. Oscar who is a pretty simple character, yet Lavant plays him exactly as he should. That is he is the dead pan center who seems somewhat exasperated and all around weary of the whole concept which pretty much reflects the tireless efforts of Oscar's performances. He makes Oscar the base point he should be on which all the other things he becomes are layers upon this man. It is pretty brilliant because Lavant is able to portray both the other characters as entirely characters on their own, yet still show the way that Oscar does go in and out of these characters.
This is certainly a performance to behold as he absolutely throws himself into every second of this film. Lavant never plays it safe here and takes the risk of never exactly being the same. He in so many moments is a brilliantly silent actor throwing himself into a character telling so much simply through the way his body moves across a scene. In another scene though he will internalize and express the more hidden struggles of one of his characters. It is striking the way he can accomplish both these style, and many more styles in between without any hesitations in the matter. For Lavant here there is never a emotion too small express or an act too big to give it his all.
This is definitely not the type of performance I am usually accustomed to reviewing, as Lavant really never is a single thing here. He is funny, he is sad, he is entertaining, he is scary, he is everything that he needs to be and more as Mr. Oscar and the characters that Mr. Oscar portrays. This is a performance that is something quite unique, and one performance that is fascinating just to watch and see him go through his procession of acts from the strange to the realistic. This is a great performance that fearlessly dives right in never limiting himself going off on a limb with this work and staying there without ever even risking falling off.