September 27th, 2010 / 12:41 pm


the naked city

Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which opened Friday in New York and Los Angeles (and will soon be available on demand, I think),  is spectacular, maddening, technically brilliant, sophomoric, unsubtle, mature… what am I forgetting?  I don’t know.  You could make stew out of the adjectives that would work in that list.  It’s a movie that, if you love movies, you have to see.  (By no means do I mean to suggest that you’ll definitely love it.  You very well may loathe it.)  It is truly, and I honestly feel I’m saying this without hyperbole, not like any movie you’ve seen before.

Noe is an infamous and incorrigible provocateur.  There’s no one moment in Enter the Void as confrontationally horrific as Irreversible’s fire extinguisher or tunnel rape scene, but it does contain many instances of hardcore sex and gynecological grotesquery.  That aspect of the movie, though, is an afterthought to me.  I saw it foremost as an attempt to expand the language of film.

Novels and film differ fundamentally when it comes to the concept of person, of course.  A novel is written either in first or third person, except on the rare occasions when it’s second.  You could argue that a film is primarily in third person with occasional interludes of first person, as done in POV shots.  But that’s not true first person, is it?

Just seeing from a character’s visual perspective for a stretch isn’t the same as actual immersion in his or her mind—emotions, thoughts, sensations, etc.  It doesn’t do what fiction does.  It’s more analogous to moments of free indirect style that approximate a character’s perspective while retaining the freedoms that third person allows.  I hope James Wood likes the movies.

Enter the Void is the first real feature-length attempt I’ve ever seen to approximate genuine, unbroken first-person perspective on a movie screen.  (I have not seen the The Lady in the Lake.  I’m not aware of any others.  I saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—and hated it—but that only sticks with first person for fifteen or twenty excruciating minutes.)

In Enter the Void, we stay in the perspective of Oscar, a young layabout in Tokyo, tripping with him when he smokes DMT, watching planes creep across the night sky, talking to his barely-clad sister Linda… then we stay with his perspective as he goes to a night club to handle a drug deal.  And then he gets killed.  And we float out of his body and, for the next two hours, zoom around Tokyo as his disembodied spirit, burrowing through his memories, leaping into different bodies (including that of a club owner who’s fucking Linda).

You might say this isn’t first person… that Noe’s cheating by constructing a plot in which his protagonist’s spirit—and thus Noe’s camera—leaves his body and roams freely.  But I actually think this is the boldest and most dedicated use of first person… Noe isn’t trying to reconstruct the visual experience of seeing through a person’s eyes, he’s trying to imagine what it’s like to live inside someone else’s mind, and he liberates himself to do this by divorcing person from the constraints of corporeal body.  We inhabit Oscar’s memories, seeing his childhood, his relationship with his sister, his betrayal of a friend… these are interspersed with sequences from “reality,” where he sees (from above) events that occur after his death.  This all leads into the astonishing final sequence, in which Oscar’s spirit roves through a Tokyo which seems to have become blended with a complex neon model of the city he once saw in a friend’s apartment… an absolutely bravura sequence, perhaps the most psychedelic passage I’ve ever seen in a film.

To be clear, this is not a narrative film in any traditional sense.  It’s about immersion and it’s striving for expansion of the medium.  (Noe is the rare filmmaker who I think could do something really spectacular with 3-D.  I’d like to see Enter the Void’s “internal sex” scene filmed in 3-D, actually.)

I think you have a sense by now, after reading this and other things about the film, of whether you are the sort of person who might appreciate Enter the Void.  If you are, you know what to do, as soon as possible.

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  1. orfee

      What Would John Zorn Do?

  2. Owen Kaelin

      Yeah, don’t get me wrong, Nick, based on my previous posts . . . I fully intend to see it (once it comes out on DVD). I don’t dislike Noé just because I’ve seen one film of his which turned me off — I mean, there was stuff in there I appreciated, and this one, from what I read on IMDb, sounds at least somewhat interesting despite the tired old She-goes-prostitute-and-drugs-while-he-goes-drugs-and/or-crime storyline.

      I think it’s gonna end up being like the Breillat effect. You know… Breillat: every time I see a film of hers I find it near excruciating, yet I watch the whole thing, and then later on I’m watching another Breillat film.

  3. Richard

      wow, nick…sounds wild

  4. Scottmcclanahan78

      Nice post Nick. I love Noe.

  5. stephen

      sounds interesting.

      i loved “the diving bell and the butterfly.”

  6. Neil

      I agree with this post. I thought the first 20 minutes and the last 20 would have made an amazing film. The middle, however, where they try to construct a narrative, was a bit of a slog and almost ruined the movie for me. The acting and writing was atrocious during this hour.

  7. lorian

      it opens on the 8th in san francisco, cantfuckingwait.

      oh, and breillat is the shit.

  8. Nick Antosca

      I definitely agree that sections of the middle were frustrating, sometimes maddening/tedious. But, and this is a strange thing to say, in the best way…

  9. DiTrapano

      I saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—and hated it

  10. DiTrapano

      Shit, I meant to add a “Thank you, Nick” under that quote. You are the first person I have heard say they didn’t like that movie. I hated it as well. I thought the scenes of him madly blinking while writing the boo were hilarious.

  11. M Kitchell

      Man, the more I read about this the more pensive I am about how I will actually react to it, which I almost feel is already sabotaging any sort of “pure” reaction to the film. I am definitely interested in it for its formal experimentation, even though I know the “plot” will be annoying, and the entire time I will probably have the thought “Philippe Grandrieux has already done this and he has done it 100 times better” lodged in the back of my head. Am I sabotaging myself?

      Possibly. I think part of it is the director persona that Noe’s former films have given off. I was hoping, after he was fucking/dating/commiserating with Lucile Hadzihalilovic he’d vibe up some of her subtlety. I can just already tell that this is going to be frustrating for me because I will continue encountering commentary and reviews of it before I get a chance to see it because I do not live in an actual city, hah.

      Definitely excited though?

  12. muzzy
  13. Janey Smith

      I like all the lights.

  14. /k

      Some Alternate Title Suggestions:
      The Lovely Boner
      Exit Annoyed

  15. deadgod

      Nick, an example of a movie with a “genuine, unbroken first-person perspective” is Blue (directed by Derek Jarman).

  16. Nick Antosca

      The only movie in recent memory that has bored me more than The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was Police, Adjective.

  17. Ferdinand Griffon

      “Police, Adjective” was supposed to bore you, and the pay-off in the penultimate, completely riveting scene was enormous.
      “Diving Bell” certainly has it’s flaws, but it’s use of POV was far more intelligent and developed than “Enter the Void”, where the technique’s rules were arbitrary and its usage puerile. And filmmakers have been making POV film’s for years, at least since Montgomery’s 1947 “Lady in the Lake”.
      “Enter the Void” is a film that would be mind-numbingly boring if its boundless stupidity wasn’t continually slapping you in the face.

  18. Nick Antosca

      Police, Adjective was supposed to bore you?? You don’t say!

      Police, Adjective actually *was* mind-numbingly boring.

      “Penultimate, completely riveting scene” made me literally laugh out loud. That scene, in which a man reads definitions from the dictionary for about ten or fifteen minutes, is a legitimate contender for the most boring scene ever included in a narrative film.

      I loathe a filmmaker who contrives to bore you senseless and then, having done just that, claims artistic integrity. There was no reason for Police, Adjective to even be a film. It should have been a short story.

      Here, for those who don’t know what we’re talking about, is maybe the most interesting scene from Police, Adjective:

  19. /k

      Right on, Fernando. Utter dreck. And Noe is truly a first-class numbskull (or, as they say in France, un demeuré)

      On a side note: The only movie that bored _me_ as much as “Enter the Void” was “Police Academy” — but at least that had Steve Guttenberg, Michael Winslow, and the dad from “Punky Brewster.”

  20. Ferdinand Griffon

      It sounds like you stopped halfway through the thought neccesary to appreciate “Police, Adjective”.
      The film demands that it’s audience very quickly start asking “why am I watching this?” But if the audience is at all willing to engage with the work, this question must be followed by another, namely, “Why is Cristi (the cop) watching this?” The answer to this is complicated, absurd, hilarious and beautifully summated in that penultimate scene.

      For people (like myself) who love the idea of “Enter the Void” but find the execution vile and pinheaded, a recent film that uses POV to visually stunning and intelligent ends (though I have plenty of qualms about the film as a whole) is Maoz’s “Lebanon”.

  21. Ferdinand Griffon

      Also, I’ve never encountered a film other than “Police, Adjective” that “contrives to bore you” (though that film certainly does). What filmmakers are you referring to here?

  22. Dreezer

      The repetitious surveillance scenes in “Police, Adjective” made audience members in my theater that night snicker. My primary reaction was “Oh, give me a fucking break.” Yeah, it would have worked much better as a short story — or a short film.

      As for contriving to bore audiences, Bela Tarr tunnels into the boredom of his characters in “Satantango” — then bores out the other side. I found it thrilling and stupefying simultaneously, watching characters sit pensively minute after minute — or, consider the epic bar scene which goes on and on and on, with bad accordion playing and drunken dancing. Boredom is part of the pact between Tarr and his audience.

  23. Nick Antosca

      I like these.

  24. Nick Antosca
  25. Nick Antosca

      I imagine if I thought about it for a bit I could come up with others but the only film I specifically had in mind when I typed that was indeed Police, Adjective.

  26. Darger

      Noe sucks. A juvenile provacateur with nothing to say. I’m bored just reading about this one.

  27. michaelb

      ‘”Enter the Void” is a film that would be mind-numbingly boring if its boundless stupidity wasn’t continually slapping you in the face.’

      Quoted for truth.