Masterpiece or massive indulgence? Holy Motors, a series of vignettes about a mysterious actor who moves between roles in other people's lives in a chauffeur-driven limo, was loved, hated and endlessly discussed when it first screened in Cannes this year.
''In my films,'' French director Leos Carax says calmly, ''there is no fear of ridicule; they are grotesque, or appear to be … Why films are a success or not, I don't know. I don't really know the public well enough.''
Carax has made only five films. All centre on a character called Oscar - Leos Carax is an anagram of the director's first and middle names: Alex Oscar - played by Denis Levant who, Carax says, he originally chose because they were the same height. His symphony of romantic excess Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991), a story of two street-dwellers played by Levant and Carax's then-girlfriend, Juliette Binoche, was not a box-office success but touched a nerve with art-house audiences. Even this audience, however, detested his long-awaited but gloomy follow-up, Pola X (1999). Carax then appeared to go to ground.
The grand sweep of Holy Motors is seen as a return to operatic form, although even Kylie Minogue, who sings a song about memory in perhaps the film's most poignant segment, does not want to try to explain it. Like its fans, she is prepared to be dazzled; on stage at the recent Locarno Festival with Carax, she described him as a genius. ''It is not overstating the case to say that making this film changed my life,'' she added.
But there is nothing complicated about it, Carax insists later. ''I think the film is simple if you accept that you don't know where you're going for the first 20 minutes,'' he says.
''I suppose that's a long time nowadays. But if a child were to watch this film, he wouldn't have that problem; it's the language of cinema that disturbs people.''
Curiously, Holy Motors was one of two films in the Cannes competition set in stretch limousines, the other being David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis.
Oscar retreats to its seemingly infinite interior to prepare for his successive bouts with the outside world.
''I think that stretch limos are fascinating,'' Carax says.
''It seems to be a truly cinematic vehicle, erotic and morbid at the same time, made to be seen but opaque, a virtual bubble. When you're inside it, you are no longer in real life. It is normal that cinema should be inspired by that.''
GENRE Too wacky to categorise.
CRITICAL BUZZ ''How bad is the Leos Carax?'' the disappointed Brit critic Jonathan Romney tweeted after the Cannes screening. ''It is captivating and compelling,'' his colleague Peter Bradshaw wrote. Take your pick, but don't expect to understand it.
STARS Denis Lavant, Kylie Minogue, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes.
DIRECTOR Leos Carax.
RELEASE Now screening.