Wednesday 14 June 2017

Enter The Void

Womb With A View

Enter The Void (Director’s Cut)
France/Germany/Italy/Canada 2009
Directed by Gaspar Noé  
Entertainment One DVD Region 2

Warning: A big spoiler here about the end of the movie but I’ve marked it it just before I get there.

I saw Gaspar Noé’s movie Irreversible some years back now. It was an okay film but I’m not sure it was completely deserving the acclaim it garnered. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t... but it’s quite possible I’ve become kinda jaded to certain types of cinema that layer themselves behind a veil of inscrutability to end up taking you to a point that’s somewhat obvious. Irreversible took me to that point but at least it had a strong moral centre... so I was curious enough to check out the director’s much publicised movie Enter The Void in its longer, directors cut. It was about time, after all, that I finally caught up to this movie.

The film starts with some bizarre electronic drone on the score as gazillions of credits hurtle past you at a speed which renders them almost unreadable. This is followed by the introduction of some ‘thump heavy’ nightclub electronic music as a second section of credits starts, again too fast for the human eye to handle but with some amazing, different font transformations and colours as it rushes to the opening of the movie.

The first thing which will probably strike you as you watch this is that it is, for the most part (although there a few contradictory shots in the first section of the movie), shot completely from the point of view of the main protagonist, Oscar, who is living in Tokyo making an okay living from dealing drugs, somewhat responsibly... if that’s not a contradiction. He makes so much money at it that he’s able to buy a ticket for his sister, who went to a different foster home when they were both orphaned as young ‘uns, to come to Tokyo and live with him. She does so but the problem with the whole camera eye thing, where Oscar’s eyes double for the camera lens, is that... just over 20 minutes into this movie, which lasts a good two and a half hours plus, Oscar is shot dead by the police, the camera focusing on his bloody hands as he realises he has been shot and dies.

However... because this is a movie by a director not afraid to explore the boundaries of cinema somewhat, this doesn’t stop the camera from staying with Oscar for the rest of the movie. In the first 20 minutes of the movie, Oscar (played by Nathaniel Brown) talks with his sister, Linda... before she goes off to the nightclub where she works as a stripper/pole dancer... he’s rung by his friend Victor, just as he’s started tripping (the bizarre manifestations of the drug trip reminded me of some kind of subatomic universe and you can see it’s based on biological shapes, which is handy because we are often told that this particular drug is like what happens to the human brain after you die). Something has happened to the relationship between Oscar and Victor and he has to bring Victor his stash of drugs. Oscar’s artist friend Alex, who is sweet on Linda, accompanies him some of the way, filling him in on the specifics of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead he’s leant Oscar, thus setting up the rest of the movie’s narrative stance. When Oscar gets to the rendezvous point, it’s a set up and Oscar is shot through the door of a bathroom as he tries to flush the drugs in a police sting.

Alex is played by Cyril Roy, Victor by Olly Alexander and Linda by the absolutely wonderful Paz de la Huerta. Now, I raved about La Heuerta when I saw her for the first time in Nurse 3D (reviewed here) and here, she performs with a more naturalistic style to her acting. It’s quite an eye opener because, although she’s extremely sexy and out of her clothes quite often, she is not playing anything like the psychotic and vengeful serial killer she played in Nurse 3D. Here she plays a somewhat naive and less decisive character but, she does an absolutely wonderful job here and I really do have to catch up with some more of this woman’s work.

After this extended opening sequence, we move into the second section of the movie.

This film is set up into three sections, you see... the first being the last 20 minutes or so of Oscar’s life. The next hour or so is a flashback summation of key points in his life which tell us of his special relationship with his sister, takes us through the car crash which leaves the two of them orphans, then gets to his moving to Tokyo, how he makes friends with Victor (and how Victor’s mum makes ‘more than just friends’ with him), his friendship with Alex and, ultimately, how everything came to set up the opening sequence, which we then go through again in edited highlights but from a slightly different perspective since we are now travelling as Oscars soul so, everything is seen from behind Oscar, as opposed to actually from within Oscar’s eyes when he was inhabiting that body.

We then go into the third section of the film which is Oscar’s soul flying around in the aftermath of what’s happened and his jumping through time to see what becomes of all the other characters... in search of... something which seemed obvious to me as soon as we started the third section of the movie, to be honest.

The film is pretty much moving camera throughout, with very few shots which are viewed statically. Your eyes will be in a constant state of interaction with the shots paraded past your retina and my one criticism would be the adoption of this style in the very first section of the movie, where the camera actually inhabit’s Oscar’s body. Thing is, a moving camera is a fine way of half capturing the human visual experience on a daily basis... but only half. Human beings are constantly moving their heads around all the time but... they’re also moving their eyes and the eyes usually fixate on something and focus on it rather than just whizz by everything as the head moves... so it’s a nice movie convention and I guess I don’t know how Noé may have achieved anything closer, but it somehow didn’t strike me as a particularly good match for the material during the first 20ish minutes, to be honest.

The film’s colour palette is vastly oversaturated in the most pleasant way, looking like Mario Bava on acid is the phrase which cropped up in my mind as I was watching. It’s quite often dictated by the various neon signs flashing through the windows of whatever room the camera eye is spending time in but, even when it’s not, the colours are exaggerated and, well, quite pleasing to the eye, I have to admit. I could have done without some of the strobe effects when the soul is flying around, though, and I’m almost kinda glad I never had to watch this in the cinema.

It seems, in this last section, we can also enter the dreams of at least one of the characters and I have to say, there are some marvellous shot transitions as various temporal and spatial anomalies are created in a way that marries them up perfectly. Noé’s meticulous planning is highlighted by the way the edits work when they really shouldn’t and he must have put a heck of a lot of work into the design of this movie. He also, in this last section, uses various portals found in situations to travel between points in time. For instance, he will wander over the rim of the urn which will contain the dead character’s  ashes, or a bowl, or a window... and then he will take another pass at it and swoop through the said shape into the next sequence. Once you realise this is what the director is doing, it becomes kinda fun to figure out which object in a room or in a landscape will be the next thing the director picks as another portal for Oscar’s camera eye... amusing stuff.

Big spoiler now.

My biggest problem with the film is that it’s hugely predictable. As I started the third section I figured the soul is looking for a way to re-enter life and I kept waiting for Paz de la Huerta’s character, Linda, to get pregnant. She does so, twice as it happens, and sure enough... on the second time we are inside her vagina as Alex ejaculates onto the camera. We then turn and ride the sperm down, following it into the camera soul’s sister before being reborn as Linda’s child. Okay, so it’s probably the only logical conclusion at this point in the movie but I did think it was kind of obvious and I really hate it when I can predict the ending of a movie so long before that ending actually happens.

End of spoiler.

That being said, Enter The Void is not hard to watch and, because of the constantly enquiring camera eye, it isn’t exactly slow paced. I think some audiences might find the film a challenge in terms of the length and fragmented nature of the, quite episodic narrative flow but, ultimately, if you are into cinema then you will probably find the film a joyous celebration of the media. It’s not a film you can put on to pass the time with your half inebriated mates on a Saturday night, for sure but, all in all I found it much more interesting than the same director’s Irreversible. Not exactly a feel good film but not something which isn’t life affirming either. Maybe give this one a go if you have a long stretch of time on your hands.

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