By Mike Collett-White
CANNES, France (Reuters) - Cars talk, a man is married to a monkey and Kylie Minogue contemplates suicide in "Holy Motors", easily the oddest movie in competition at the Cannes film festival screened so far this year.
Directed by French film maker Leos Carax, the story follows Mr. Oscar, a man who spends each day living 10 different lives, each mapped out for him in a dossier left in the back seat of the stretch white limousine he travels in.
In the morning he is a rich businessman leaving his luxury home for work. Next he dresses up as an old woman beggar on the streets of Paris.
Each hurried change involves elaborate costume changes and make up in the back of the limousine, and leave Oscar, played with superhuman energy by Denis Lavant, increasingly exhausted as the day wears on.
As to its meaning, critics and journalists struggled to agree.
"What the heck does it all mean?" wrote Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw in his five-star review, before proceeding to seek to unravel the enigma of Holy Motors.
Carax, whose last full-length feature was "Pola X" in 1999, declined to answer when asked at a press conference what the movie meant, and merely shook his finger.
In response to a question about the different movies referenced in his film, he said, speaking in French:
"Obviously if you decide to live in that little island which is cinema, it is a beautiful island that has a big cemetery. So sometimes you go to the cemetery."
NEARLY NOT MADE
Holy Motors, loudly cheered at the press screening ahead of its official world premiere in Cannes on Wednesday, nearly did not make it to the big screen.
Carax's reputation with film financiers suffered in the early 1990s when his "The Lovers on the Bridge", also starring Lavant, ran dramatically over budget.
"There were some bad memories that lingered in terms of banks and bankers," said producer Martine Marignac.
"The banks didn't want to follow through and the film nearly did not get made. We thought that 20 years down the road this situation would not arise again, but the difficulty in financing this kind of film hinges on the fact that these films are not viewed as commercial."
Oscar's most shocking character is "Monsieur Merde", half-man half-beast who bursts in on a photo shoot at a Paris cemetery with U.S. actress Eva Mendes and carries her to his underground lair where she comforts the naked, aroused monster.
In another segment Australian pop star Minogue plays a melancholy air hostess who is contemplating suicide, and she performs a song for her lost love.
The singer and actress, a major celebrity throughout the world, admitted she was "slightly terrified" at the thought of appearing in the movie, but added:
"Basically I banned my entourage from coming with me, I kind of stripped myself of being Kylie and wanted to go back to being as basic as possible and pretty much be a blank canvas for Leos."
Towards the end of Holy Motors, limousines parked in a warehouse talk to each other before lights out, and later Oscar returns home to his wife and children -- all of them monkeys.
For a look at Cannes 2012 lineup, click here: http://link.reuters.com/vav28s
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)