Monday, 27 September 2010

Enter the Void

Director: Gaspar Noe
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta & Cyril Roy

Certainly memorable and confirming that Gaspar Noe is indeed a director with vision like few other directors, Enter the Void is however, overlong and over indulgent, lacking the punch or even the controversy of Noe’s previous film Irreversible.

After a controversial debut with I Stand Alone in 1998, Gaspar Noe became infamous in 2002 with his second film Irreversible with its extreme violence, particularly a prolonged rape scene, leaving audiences and critics both offended and enthralled by the events and the meaning behind them. Irreversible seemingly confirmed Noe as a director willing to push what is acceptable in cinema aiming to shock and provoke audiences. Now, eight years after Irreversible was released, Noe returns with a new film called Enter the Void. With a grander scale in mind in terms of themes and ideas being explored and it how they are presented, Enter the Void is certainly an ambitious and memorable film that will court controversy like Noe’s previous films but it is neither as controversial or as powerful as those earlier films with Enter the Void becoming too overindulgent, especially in its second half, leaving the film memorable, intriguing but also somewhat tedious.

Oscar (Brown) and Linda (de la Huerta) are brother and sister living in Tokyo. After witnessing the deaths of their parents in car accident as children, the pair vowed never to leave each other only to be separated and placed into foster homes. Years later, Oscar having moved to Tokyo has been able to afford to bring his sister over and they now live the family life together they never had before with each providing almost surrogate parental roles for one other. Oscar is a regular drug user and has taken to dealing on the side whilst Linda makes a living as a go-go dancer and is in a relationship with the club’s owner. When a deal goes wrong and Oscar is shot by police, he finds himself lifted out of his body and his spirit moving between past, present and future as he tries to look over and after his sister after his death and see the events of his past that shaped who they both became.

Having already established himself with his previous films as a director willing to experiment with what cinema can achieve and push the boundaries of what is acceptable, not only in regards to themes and events but also in regards to narrative structure and cinematography, Noe’s latest film Enter the Void continues to push those boundaries with varying levels of success. Filmed entirely from the point of view of its lead protagonist Oscar, the cinematography takes off once the lead character dies and becomes a disembodied spirit as, at this point, Noe is then able to take the character, the point of view and the cinematography that goes with it to represent the point of view to places that have rarely been touched upon in film and certainly not to the extent that is shown here. Floating above in, around, through and above the action, there is a sense of freedom to the cinematography as Noe takes the camera and character zipping across the Tokyo landscape and into the homes, rooms and lives of the film’s characters. Initially very impressive and recalling somewhat the music video for The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, what begins as an interesting technique becomes somewhat tedious in the second half of the film where the movements backwards and forwards over the city and between characters seemingly accounts for more of the runtime than the lives of the characters whom Oscar is following. Noe also experiments with time too as Oscar, in his afterlife voyage which takes the form of the experiences described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a text referenced directly and frequently in the film, relives his past and the most formative events that shaped him, his sister and their relationship. This exploration accounts for much of the first half of film following Oscar’s death and is interesting and engaging, portraying the traumatic event that shaped the bond Oscar has with his sister explaining their commitment to each other and the near-incestuous relationship they hold in the present as though each is taking the role of one of their lost parents. When the film moves ahead to the aftermath of Oscar’s death and he witnesses the events in the lives of his sister and friends the film loses steam as Noe spend increasingly more time floating between scenes than exploring them though there are still interesting moment when events he witnesses recall moments from the past where such moments are intercut with flashbacks, often sudden ones. As Enter the Void approaches its climax, Noe’s indulgences become more prevalent including a finale in a sex hotel that features imagery that is less shocking or controversial than it is, presumably unintentionally, hilarious though is nevertheless memorable.

Featuring mostly newcomers, Enter the Void’s cast performances vary in quality. Nathaniel Brown is fine as Oscar though his appearance and involvement in the story is limited mostly as voiceover as he narrates the events he is witnessing, which we too are witnessing through his point of view, up until his death when his thoughts cease to be voiced and he is largely replaced in the film by the director’s camera. Paz de la Huerta has moments of interest in her performance as Linda though her performance, and her character, rarely manage to convey what makes her so appealing to those around her and to Oscar in particular. Cyril Roy is more interesting and memorable as a friend of Oscar’s named Alex who is the film’s most sympathetic character, a philosophical and poetic character and the child actors who play Oscar and Linda’s younger selves are interesting too, especially Emily Alyn Lind as the young Linda whose performance is powerful and chilling at times especially when portraying the traumatic reactions to deaths of her character’s parents and her separation from her brother. The performance is the most memorable in the film and impressive for a child actress.

Whilst still likely to court controversy, Enter the Void is less controversial and certainly less powerful than Noe’s previous film Irreversible, though Enter the Void certainly demonstrates more ambition on Noe’s behalf with an engaging first half and some impressive cinematography that confirms Noe as an auteur even if his overindulgences means the second half of his film is overlong and somewhat tedious with an ending more humorous than shocking or thought provoking.

Rating: 3/5