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Kylie Upstages Co-Stars, ‘On the Road’ Mangles Kerouac

Kylie Minogue
Kylie Minogue signs autographs at the Cannes Film Festival. The Australian pop star has a cameo in the French movie "Holy Motors," directed by Leos Carax. Photographer: Farah Nayeri/Bloomberg

A loopy French arthouse movie yesterday drew the kind of paparazzi attention that Hollywood blockbusters get. Hordes of flashbulb-popping photographers descended on the premiere -- and not for the movie’s main lineup. They were there for Kylie Minogue.

The Australian pop princess was at the Cannes Film Festival to promote “Holy Motors,” directed by French cinema’s enfant terrible Leos Carax, where she has a cameo as a Jean Seberg lookalike. In short blond hair and a raincoat, she sullenly wanders around a disused department store with an ex-lover, and breaks into song.

Minogue looked embarrassed by the “Kylie” catcalls as she posed for photographers in a backless olive-green dress.

“It is a bizarre meeting of us two, I suppose: No one would really assume that we would be together,” she said of Carax at the news conference, insisting she was “more than happy to venture into this strange experience.”

Minogue said she “banned” her entourage from the set. “I kind of stripped myself of being Kylie,” said the singer, “and wanted to go back to be as basic as possible, and pretty much be a blank canvas for Leos.”

Carax, in a tan leather jacket and shades, smiled and nodded. Fingers clutching an unlit cigarette, he shrugged when reporters asked what his movie meant, or who his public was.

“All I know is, it’s a bunch of people who will be dead very soon,” he said. “I don’t like public films. I like private films. I invite whoever wants, to come and see it.”

Lady Driver

An autobiographical tribute to cinema, “Holy Motors” is convoluted and self-indulgent. An elfish man named Oscar (Carax’s middle name) impersonates 10 characters in a day as he’s driven around Paris in a white stretch limo by an elegant lady named Celine (a possible reference to the author of “Journey to the End of the Night.”)

Oscar (Denis Lavant) is, by turns, a banker, a beggar woman, a dad, a rich uncle, and an accordion player. The plot grows ever more bizarre as he slips on a space-age bodysuit to work out and make out with an elastic woman in red.

Elsewhere, he’s a Quasimodo-like creature named Monsieur Merde who roams sewers and graves etched with website addresses. Interrupting a photo shoot at the graveyard, he kidnaps a statuesque model -- Eva Mendes -- then turns her bronze gown into a burqa and sleeps naked in her lap.

Minogue plays Oscar’s wistful lover from way back. When they meet, she sings, “Who were we when we were who we were back then?”

Carax has never been one to give audiences an easy way out. While he has things to say, he takes “Holy Motors” to such extremes of non-narration that even his actors lose the plot. Film, like all other art forms, requires communicating with the people at the receiving end. Rating: *1/2.

‘On the Road’

Brazilian-born director Walter Salles has a knack for trivializing living legends.

In the 2004 “Motorcycle Diaries,” he turned the life of revolutionary Che Guevara into a glorified commercial, full of pretty young faces, stunning landscapes and flawless photography. In “On the Road” (featuring Kirsten Dunst), he does it again, this time with Jack Kerouac’s classic novel.

The movie feels very much like a sexual initiation diary. Timid Sal -- the character who stands in for the real-life Kerouac -- goes around America with his charismatic and promiscuous friend Dean (the real-life Neal Cassady). Along the way, Sal hones his bedroom skills, and partakes in the fun.

Twosomes, Threesomes

There are twosomes with a third party watching, threesomes, and talk of a foursome, as unstoppable Dean takes lovers of both sexes. His favorite is Marylou (Kristen Stewart of “Twilight”), whom he marries at 16, though he also fathers children with the bookish Camille (Dunst).

Literary citations are tossed in for good measure, in between sex scenes. After nude Marylou pleasures the two men simultaneously in the front seat, she reads out from a dog-eared copy of Proust. Elsewhere, the William Burroughs character reads the correct translation of a crude Celine passage. Writers -- like the rebels in “Motorcycle Diaries” -- are romanticized, shown sitting at vintage typewriters with cigarettes hanging from their mouths.

At a Cannes media briefing, Salles said he put his cast through four weeks of “boot camp”: non-stop documentary screenings on the period. It doesn’t show.

What the movie has going for it is the actor playing Dean: Garrett Hedlund (previously in “Troy” and “Tron”). His performance is both bestial and moving, and a poignant rendering of the central friendship. Dunst and Stewart are also good, with Stewart getting more screen time as wild Marylou.

Nonetheless, you’re left wondering what the film is doing in the official Cannes competition. Rating: **.

What the Stars Mean:
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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