Friday, September 24, 2010

ENTER THE VOID, the drug 'n death trip from Gaspar Noé, opens and opens and...

...just keeps opening, or so it seems. This is good. For awhile. And then it begins to bore. With his new film ENTER THE VOID the Argentine-born bad-boy of cinema (one of them, anyway: I Stand Alone and Irreversible pretty much place him in that select group), Gaspar Noé seems to have grown utterly besotted with color and visual effect.

Again, because some of these are quite marvelous, even original, this is good. For awhile. Mr. Noé, shown at right, is a repeater. If he can do something once, he wants to do it again. And again. If you took the repetition out of this 137-minute film (cut down, we are told by some critics, from a lengthier version shown at last's year's Cannes Fest), I think you might fill one hour.

A traffic accident seen over and over and over and over (see: I can be a repeater, too); visuals from the perspective of a bird, or maybe an angel, of a remarkably empty Tokyo that looks more animated than real (has this city ever been so depopulated?); and the camera forever zeroing in on anything -- and I do mean anything -- of a circular nature. Like the drug-trip image (below) to ash trays, toilet bowls, lamp shades, light bulbs, the camera lens, the burners on a stove top and -- oh, yes, nipples.

After awhile you may feel you've entered one of those children's puzzle books (granted, a very adult one) in which you are asked to "identify every single circle on this page." Gaspar likes hexagons, too, but in terms of sheer quantity, they don't hold a candle (seen from above, so it's a circle!) to those round shapes.

From the opening credits,  Noé announces his provocation: The names and identities fly by so fast you can't possibly read them. (To be fair, he then runs them by us yet a second time, but also very fast.)  The film is then shown from the POV of its main character, a very young drug-dealer (and -user) named Oscar (Nathaniel Brown, shown above and below).  But wait -- you can't see his face. You got it. The writer/director has decided to film (well, sort of) from the POV of the main character so that we see his hands and other parts of his body but his face only twice, when he looks in a mirror, then again on the table in the morgue.

And yet the camera keeps following him so that we see the back of his head. Note to Noé: When filming from the POV of any human being, that person will indeed be able to see his own hands, feet, legs, arms, stomach, chest and, unless he's very fat or very un-endowed, even his dick when taking a piss.  What he can never see is the back of his own head.  So repeatedly showing this to us, Van Sant-style, is simply nutty.  But there it is. It maybe that these back-of-head shots occur more often after the character has died (whatever that might signify). No spoiler here: the death happens very early in the film, and the remainder of the movie is taken up with the memories of the corpse/spirit/ghost and those many and repetitive overhead shots, as Oscar's spirit travels back and forth in time -- and all around town.

In addition to Oscar, we also meet his stripper sister (played by Paz de la Huerta, above and further above, right), the friend who betrays him (for reason you'll learn) and a few others, none of whom registers strongly. The "plot" is so small and thin you can hardly call it that. What the film finally becomes is a kind of visual head trip - which a number of critics seem to have embraced rather thoroughly. (My dears: take a pill, smoke a joint, but demand more from your movies!) For me all this seems a little too reminiscent of the 60s and 70s but with, at least, some originality of reproduction. Noé's visuals are sometimes stunning, and even better are the movie's sound design and effects (by Ken Yasumoto and Thomas Bangalter), which are marvels of the large and small, the shocking and subdued, and which never stop. You know the film is finished once your ears, as much as your eyes, no longer feel assaulted.

The final section of the film takes us to a "Love Hotel," where we/Oscar watch couples coupling, as above, and even see what appears to be a straight-ahead shot viewed from deep within the vagina as a cock thrusts forward (another circle image!).  This leads us to what I imagine is the filmmaker's great point: the connectedness of birth, sex and death (another circle, albeit metaphoric). This is not particularly original, but from the manner in which Noé pushes it, it would appear he has just discovered the idea and has a bursting urge to share.

Well, share he has, and while it may sound as if I am putting his movie down (OK: I am somewhat), I have to admit enjoying parts of it. But the adage less is more might be one for Noé to at least consider. Right now, he seems to believe that more should always be goosed into most.

Enter the Void, from IFC Films open today, September 24, in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Here in Manhattan you can see it on the big screen (which is how the filmmaker and distributor want you to view it: No critics' DVD screeners were handed out for this film) at the IFC Center.  For those not residing in L.A., NYC or Chi-town, the film will be available from IFC On-Demand, beginning September 29. Click here to determine how to get it.

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