Sunday, November 21, 2010

ENTER THE VOID (2009) Review

Enter The Void (2009)
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Written by Gaspar Noé and Lucile Hadzihalilovic

If I were to review this in one sentence, that sentence would be: "Well, I've never seen that in a film before."

Note the fact that there's no positive or negative connotation in the sentence that you could arguably walk away with.  That's probably the most telling thing about my reaction.

But first, some back story.  Apparently, Gaspar Noé has been wanting to make this film since his adolescence, and actively trying to get funding for it since the early 2000s.  However, it was deemed too expensive and at least one false start ended with producers dropping out, even though they liked the script.  It was the financial success of Noé's 2002 film, Irréversible, that changed things.

Enter the Void is a French film cast with English-speaking actors, mainly because Noé didn't want viewers distracted from the visual elements of the film with subtitles.  He has also approved the use of dubbing for releases in non-English speaking countries.

And now, Spoilers.

Enter the Void is, on the surface, the story of an American drug-dealer, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), living in Japan, who is shot by the police and dies.  It also concentrates on the life of his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta, of HBO's Boardwalk Empire), and her reactions.

Here's the trailer, which really sets it up very well:

In fact, it may set it up too well, as that's pretty much the entire story right there.

It leaves out some of the texture of the story, as well as some of the more emotionally invested scenes of the film, but that's the main thrust of the picture.

The thing is, the story, while important, is almost secondary to the visual and emotional flow of images that Noé creates.  The problem I initially had with the film, was that the story was almost overwhelmingly empty and negative.  There really isn't anything good about the characters or about their interactions and especially about their influences on one another.  By the end, we see that pretty much everyone Oscar has ever had any type of contact with is ruined in one way or another, and that ruin is caused either directly or indirectly by Oscar himself.

The film is practically hopeless and almost entirely bleak.

The ending provides a small glimmer of positivity, but even that is left open and may just be a minor uptick in the overall depression that fills the rest of the film.

Because of this, well, mainly because of this, my initial reaction to the film was pretty strongly negative.  It's a masterfully crafted film from a technical standpoint, but I had a visceral negative response.  I honestly couldn't imagine ever wanting to watch this film again.  Especially given its two and a half hour run time.  This is despite the moments of pure visual wonder that make up a lot of the film.  Noé makes Tokyo seem like both a neon wonderland and a grimy, always moving, back alley.

But, after sleeping on it, I am willing to admit that my first impression was wrong.  While the film is oppressively depressing at times, and overwhelmingly empty and banal at others, that's really part of the point (it is a French film after all).  However, at the same time, this film is bursting with beautiful imagery and breathtaking moments, both in the real world of modern Tokyo and in the computer-generated hallucination sequences.

Noé is on the record as saying "There is no line between art and pornography. You can make art of anything."  He does his best to establish this as a truism with Enter the Void.  There are graphic scenes of sex scattered throughout the film, most notably in what is practically an orgy toward the end of the film as we fly over and through scene after scene of apparently real sex.  It's not particularly titillating, though, nor is it meant to be, I don't think.  It serves to really emphasize the emptiness of the characters' lives more than it represents any sort of real connections between people.  The sex all seems desperate and emotionless.

The only real relationship in the film is between Oscar and Linda, and even that seems to have a subtle sexual component.  After Oscar is killed, we explore their lives together through flashbacks as his spirit relives key moments in his life.  If that really is what's happening.  All of this may just be the dying hallucinations of Oscar, under the influence of DMT and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Of all the performances in the film, that of Emily Alyn Lind as Young Linda is the most harrowing and impressive.  That child expresses the most gut-wrenchingly emotional reactions, both positive and negative, of anyone in this film or most films I've seen of late.  She's simply amazing.  Especially when compared with Paz de la Huerta's performance as the adult Linda.  The more I see of de la Huerta, the more I think she may be mildly retarded.

Looking back on the film, there were only two things that I would have cut, the first being some of the time spent traveling from scene to scene.  I appreciate the floating POV, and like how it draws attention to itself and forces us into the role of voyeur, and I know that would be undermined by simply cutting from scene to scene, but sometimes the traveling took so long it took me out of the film.  Secondly, I don't think the film was served by the "return to life" sequence.  It was just confusing and muddied what is already a difficult film to absorb.

At first, I wasn't taken with the choice to film the preliminary action from Oscar's perspective, especially given that his dialogue was muffled and hard to hear.  It seemed a little too much like a gimmick and less like a way to enhance the narrative, but as it went on, and I felt more and more like I was actually experiencing the story through his eyes (particularly his DMT hallucinations), I eased up on my hesitation and accepted the fact that this entire film is really from his perspective, even after his death.  By not breaking away from him, and presenting an outside narrative hand (the director's hand), we maintain the immediacy of the narrative and it makes the entire story much more powerful.

Oh, and as for those, "Well, I've never seen that in a film before" moments?  They're not for the faint-hearted.  One scene is about as graphic an abortion scene as you could put on film and the other is a shot from inside a vagina as a penis thrusts into it and ejaculates toward the camera.  Both are actually very important to the experience of the film, but were definitely moments where I questioned just what the hell I was watching.

If you can't tell, the more I think about this film, the more I like it.  I don't know that I would recommend it to anyone, but I'm liking it more and more with every passing hour.  It's a lot like the films of Alejandro Jodorowski, El Topo and Holy Mountain, only with a better budget and less hope.  I think anyone who appreciates those films would be open to the experience of Enter the Void.

No comments:

Post a Comment