Friday, September 24, 2010

Gaspar Noé and 'Enter The Void'

Misogynist, pornographer, homophobe, cruel, racist, depraved . . . the list of pejorative terms hurled at Argentine-French filmmaker Gaspar Noé has lengthened with the release of each of his films. After all, here is a director whose first widely-seen film, Carne (1991), opened with a graphic abattoir sequence of a horse being slaughtered and the carcass stripped for meat. This was followed by Seul contre tous (I Stand Alone) (1998), which expanded on the world of the earlier film’s central character, the nameless Butcher unforgettably portrayed by Philippe Nahon, whose rage against the state of his life and of French society encompasses incest with his daughter and assaulting a pregnant woman. As if Noé hadn’t given his critics enough ammunition, his next film, Irréversible (2002), featured a horrific murder and an infamous nine-minute, single-take rape scene before the film had reached its halfway mark. As a result of his approach, Noé has been tagged as part of the New French Extremism, a movement of transgressive cinema which also includes directors such as François Ozon, Catherine Breillat and Marina de Van — interesting filmmakers all, each of whom deserves better than to pigeonholed in such a way.

However, to take the easy option and simply accept either Noé’s detractors or out-of-context descriptions of scenes from his films at face value is to do a huge disservice to a truly fascinating director. One of the keys to understanding Noé’s approach is provided by the work of his father, the artist and intellectual Luis Felipe Noé, part of the 1960s Buenos Aires Otra Figuración movement. Hallmarks of the movement included the use of vivid colours, political content and an extreme sense of kinesis, attributes Noé fils has incorporated into his own work. Also telling is a comment attributed to Noé pére: “I believe in chaos as a value.”

There is certainly also an element of the professional provocateur to Gaspar Noé; he has never denied his attempts at manipulating audience emotion, whether it be a thirty second warning to audiences to leave the cinema in fear of what is about to happen (Seul contre tous), or sound design incorporating frequencies guaranteed to cause uneasy discomfort in the viewer (Irréversible), but this is best seen as following in the tradition of  the showmanship and sly playfulness of Hitchcock, while his softly-spoken insistence on being ‘normal’ is positively Lynchian. The ostentatious gimmickry and overtly confrontational nature of his previous work gives rise to parallels with films such as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), but while Haneke is lauded for his intellectual austerity, Noé is unfairly demonised. Each of Noé’s films has been a huge leap forward in style, tone and content, and with Enter the Void he has created an unforgettable masterpiece — a film that’s remarkable in its ambition, scope, style and beauty.

Inspired by a viewing over twenty years ago of Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake (1947), a film shot entirely from the point of view of the main character and which the director watched under the influence of psilocybin, Enter the Void has obviously long been a cherished project of Noé’s. Interviews at the time of Irréversible find him mentioning that that film had only been made due to a delay in “the pre-production stage of another movie I wanted to shoot in Tokyo, about a drug dealer,” while in recent interviews he has discussed how the balletic, sweeping camera movements of Irréversible were trial runs for the amazingly complex camerawork of the new film. Indeed, Irréversible may eventually be seen as a key film of transition in Noé’s body of work, as Enter the Void not only refines the shooting style of the former but also represents a significant maturing of the contemplative and tender nature of that film’s latter half, with none of the shock tactics of his earlier films. Noé’s psychedelic exploration of the afterlife (for which Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was also a key influence) and the bonds of love that bind us veers away from traditional narrative structures and instead places us at the very centre of a warm yet unforgiving examination of consciousness and existence.

Enter the Void was first shown in a rough cut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, with a length of 163 minutes. Following almost a year of post-production and extensive editing, including the excision of a complete reel, the version showing at the IFI has a running time of 137 minutes.

View the trailer here.

Kevin Coyne


  1. How different is this cut to the version that played at JDIFF?

  2. This version is one reel shorter (about 25 minutes). The director was contractually obliged to cut it down after its initial festival screenings.