blank'/> Cinema Reviews: Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void" - Brilliant, but too bloody long!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void" - Brilliant, but too bloody long!

The two main feelings I left with after seeing Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void last night at a screening at the Canberra International Film Festival (One of a few across the country as the film is getting no general Australian Release), were A) I had seen something amazing and B) It was so tortuously self-indulgent and long that at times I wanted to shake my fist at the screen in anguish.

The film IS a technical marvel, taking a use of CGI started by David Fincher in Panic Room (And obviously in Noe's own Irreversible) to expand the limits of where a camera can move through space to their absolute limit, so that we literally see through the eyes of the main character Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) without any compromises such as avoiding mirrors, looking through spy holes, smoking a crack pipe, blinking, or his own hands passing over his face. Later, with the camera as the eyes of Oscar's disembodied spirit we float effortlessly over the rooftops of buildings and through physical matter such as buildings, walls and rooms (A great shot in this vein happens just after Oscar's murder where friend Alex (Cyril Roy) tussles with Police and exits from frame, and seconds later we are whisked over a building following the sound of Alex's voice and chase him down an alleyway in an overhead shot as he runs from the scene - the sense of momentum and movement in this shot is just breath taking) We dive into bullet wounds, drains, urns, lights and emerge from similar objects as though they are physically linked by unseen tunnels (Or spaces of mottled strobing); we sink into the back of people's heads and observe things through their eyes, as well as passing through interior spaces of their bodies; we even change from wide lenses to fish-eye lenses without a single cut, in fact there is NO cut in this film, a marvel in itself; any blackness is created by moving into low light and Oscar's blinking or closing of eyes.

The camera is also enabled to switch rapidly through time - in the latter half of the film where Oscar's spirit reviews his memories - where we switch seamlessly between bath times in the past for Oscar, his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) and their Mother (Disappearing below the water line), to more recent times where older Oscar bathes with older Linda (Reappearing above the water line). This device allows for beautiful Freudian moments (i.e. unconscious connections made in the mind) such as when we switch back and forth between Oscar's POV in an affair with an older woman, Suzy (Sara Stockbridge) reaching for her naked breasts, and Oscar's POV as a baby's, reaching for his Mother's breasts.
Another stand out moment for this device, although used for dramatic impact and not in a Fruedian sense (And If you're still awake for it, that is), is near the end of the film when Oscar's spirit rides with Linda and his friend Alex in a taxi headed for a Japanese Love Hotel, and Linda, inexplicably and contrary to the tone of the scene, screams into Alex's face and we spin round as a truck collides with the front of the vehicle - we are now looking at a scene in the past through young Oscar's eyes, as he stares at the mangled, bloody reclining faces of his dead parents, killed in a head-on collision (Noe replays this accident several times throughout the movie, lingering on the mangled corpses; obviously signposting it as an important memory in Oscar's recollections, but probably more so to shock and rattle the viewer. It is a misguided effort however, for as a result of Noe's own excesses with Irreversible's violent rape scene and in this climate post Hostel films, what really is left in terms of the viler aspects of human nature and tragedy for filmmakers to expose on film and still hope for a reaction? Overuse has meant I simply find this apparently transgressive device tedious)

CGI is additionally used to augment the colors of every scene, so that the film is literally one pulsing, lurid, neon splash of light - stand out moments of these include the blazing, kinetic opening titles (Starting from the use of Irreversible's primary colored titles on black and end credit music [Which I thought was a bit on the nose: 'Oh, hey everyone, this sequence is a direct continuation from my last film', but anyway...] and cutting straight into Neon-sign like signatures for actors and production crew); Oscar and Linda's visit to some sort of ornamental shop where everything glows with phosphorescent greens, blues, yellows, oranges and pinks; the exterior facade and pole dancing floor of the Sex, Money, Power Nightclub where Linda works as stripper; and the lights of the Police and Emergency Vans after Oscar is shot. You can see how Marc Caro's (Who co-directed Delicatessen & The City of Lost Children with Jean-Pierre Jeunet) art direction really lifted this film's look to another level.

A fourth use of CGI is to ornament the film with incredible imagined images, such as the amazing hallucinations Oscar experiences after smoking DMT (The chemical released from the pineal gland moments before death, as is explained to Oscar by Alex in an early scene), where his view of the room he and Linda shares becomes overlaid with CGI images of strange splintering, undulating formations like DNA strands or geometric weed; again neon-colored and with electricity cycling along their stems. Additionally Noe uses ornamentation on the buildings behind the Love Hotel late in the film, getting them to pulse and undulate and defy perspective in unnatural ways. Another great moment is when Oscar returns to his body at the scene of his murder, and in a reverse of the shot that accompanied his death the first time around, moving up into the light; we pull back from his body into some kind of undulating, visceral tunnel, where the light should be, gradually having our view of Oscar's body obscured by the bends in the writhing tunnel. A great visual and thematic moment is when we glide through the various rooms of the Love Hotel where various Japanese people are copulating, CGI adding streams of incandescent, spectral light from their sex organs, and sending similar light across their bodies. Here Noe of course is suggesting the power and mystery of the sexual act. CGI also creates the buzzing, mottled, faded papyrus-like colored spaces of strobing we encounter when Oscar's spirit zooms into various household or street lights - which also seem to contain the splintering geometric hallucinations from earlier; but heavily obscured and difficult to focus on. I can only assume that these spaces are meant to represent apertures to heaven or possibly purgatory, as this is the first space Oscar finds after leaving his body, disappearing into the light fixture in the roof of the toilet he is is shot in. When we leave them, perhaps this is Oscar's spirit deciding not to move on from the physical world - a decision it debates several times over through the use of this device during the film.

But this incredible technical mastery aside, the biggest problem with the film is that Gaspar believes his plot and actors are more engaging than they actually are; call it a moral judgment, but dense drug users breezing around the streets of Tokyo, alternating between a comatose delivery of dialogue or histrionic, unsympathetic caterwauling, are not the kind of people I wish to spend much time with - but of course I realize a lot of people will.

I've already given you snippets, but I should probably now address the story line. Oscar and Linda, brother and Sister, live together in Tokyo, following the death of the parents years earlier. Linda works as a dancer at a local strip joint and Oscar is a drug dealer. After taking smoking some DMT and talking to his friend Alex about the Tibetan book of living and dying, Oscar is betrayed by a customer, Victor, and Japanese Police shoot him in the toilet of a bar. His spirit leaves his body and flies over the city, observing the fallout of his death on the lives of his sister and friends.

There is very little in the way of plot from this point on, just a series of either past events, Oscar's memories, present day events and arresting visual moments as Oscar's spirit journeys over Tokyo city.

Some devices employed by Noe simply suffer from overuse - and I mean OVERuse - the down shot flying through buildings which link us to events and characters across the city is great the first four times we see it, but soon wears out it's welcome. Disappearing into the lights into fields of strobing is very arresting the first few times it's used, but become tedious once we enter them again...and again. Having the scenes we witness start to strobe and shudder in a fish-eye perspective is quite startling the first two times we see it - but loses any impact (And tries the patience) with repeated use. The biggest problem is that none of the above devices seem to add any further level of meaning to the story, or even to push the story forward - they seem almost like eye candy for the sake of it or flashy band aids to synch two scenes together. It is, quite simply, lazy film making - especially for the amount of work the tech crew would've put into rendering them.

Even the device of moving to different time frames and places, loses it's impact from overuse. After a certain point - let's say about an 1 hour and bit in, when Oscar is deeper into his memory recall of past experiences - you just stop caring and switch off. The film becomes more of a endurance test, waiting with grit teeth for something interesting to come on again, or hopefully, for the film to end.

I should be fairer in many respects, as this was an experimental film, with little to no scripted dialogue and detailed descriptions of what would happen. Noe was probably trying out a lot of stuff simply to see if it would work, but the fact remains he didn't have to include the failed sequences (If he even recognized them as flawed, that is), or ALL of the sequences, as so much on screen is unnecessary; from Linda's unsympathetic wailing when Victor comes to apologize for setting Oscar up, to Alex's weeks on the street after Oscar's death (I'm sorry, the guy's a moron and I just don't care), -  Perhaps Noe is suggesting that the reality of people grieving is LOONG, tedious and exhausting, and obviously this is a valid point - but this observation doesn't make for a very engaging film. Perhaps Noe, the irreligious, nihilist provocateur such as he is, doesn't really care if this is the result. I certainly hope he cares, as his statement from promotional material seems to imply here

Enter the Void was an amazing, irritating experience; my first film festival experience; and as stunning as some of it's visual moments are, it is a flawed, lazy film and as such I couldn't embrace the experience wholeheartedly.

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