Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review: Enter the Void

Enter the Void
Dir. Gasper Noé
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: R18+
Running Time: 161mins

Where does a film like Enter the Void stand in 2010?

I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but as I read the fabulous Liminal Vision blog today discuss the history of cult cinema, and today’s sad sorry state, I couldn’t help but think of Gasper Noé’s Enter the Void, which I had just seen mere hours earlier. Right now in Melbourne cinemas (well, actually, just the one – Cinema Nova in Carlton) you have the chance to see both Enter the Void and Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and as fun as I found the latter, its inclusion in the cinema’s “cult craving” sidebar of late night screenings belies its inception as a film with minimal goals and limited resources. Mega Shark may be “cult” in that it’s a bad movie and people enjoy sitting in a crowd, mocking it to tears, but it doesn’t lay any claim to being an actual piece of cult cinema in the traditional sense.

As I sat in the tiny, yet thankfully plush, cinema – barely 20 seats, I swear – I couldn’t help but think that Noe’s hyperactive, neon-infused, heroine-addicted, batshit insane hooladoowacky movie going experience would be the type of film that audiences would have actually embraced in the cult heyday of the 1970s. There’s a big difference between seeing Enter the Void in a small cinema with comfortable seats and a bottle of water in the drink-holder and attending a sticky-floored cinema and watching it through a haze of marijuana smoke, which is certainly how David Lynch’s Eraserhead, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo - famed cult classics, all of them – were viewed in their time.

It’s like what audiences did with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, paying their $2 admission fee (or however much it was) to get high and trip out on acid right there in the cinema. Somehow I imagine it’s just not the same in 2010. Today, drug tripping university students are far more likely to download Enter the Void and watch it on the new flatscreen TV that their parents just purchased for them. It’s enough to make me pine for an era I wasn’t even alive for.

I started thinking of all this because, well, there really isn’t much to think about in Gasper Noé’s first film since the shocking Irreversible in 2001. Where that film had a powerful and complex core behind its outer sheen of abhorrent violence, one that lingered long after initial viewing, Enter the Void is an exasperating two and a half hour ponderous excursion through Noé’s over-indulgent, untamed imagination. And a rather unmoving one at that (even as shock cinema I wasn’t particularly shocked.) Why end your film after an hour and a half when you’ve run out of things to say when you can keep going for another hour? It’s art, silly. I may not have seen anything like this before in my life, but I don't think I wanted to see two and a half hours of whatever it actually was. Much like Gulliver’s Travels last week, I suspect one must be on the sort of hardcore drugs that Noé’s lead character is on in order to get through it with any sense of what he was trying to achieve.

The thing is that I believe Noé has something in here worth saying, it’s just hidden far, far beneath the five (or was it ten?) minute visual effect hallucination sequences, frequent rollercoaster orbits over the Tokyo skyline, screeching conversations between uninteresting characters and ever-looping flashbacks filmed from camera angles that give the impression Noé and cinematographer Benoît Debie thought they were being awfully inventive when really they just shoved the camera on a ceiling fan and flipped the dial. Noé is unafraid to show whatever he wants and yet surprisingly in a film filled with uncomfortable scenes of drug use and a 20-minute long sequence in a sex hotel (in which glowing visual effects are emitted out of male and female genitals, naturally) it is the abrupt violence (a shot gun, a car accident) that has the most impact. Drug addicts don’t really surprise me, I guess. Is that flippant? Perhaps, but when even I’m bored by a visual effects inspired neon driven version of Tokyo I know there’s a problem.

The film is a frightful bore and yet is boring whilst encompassing everything that can be fascinating about cinema. I just can’t help but feel this must be what it’s like to be on a drug trip that lasts as long as a hiccup. Enter the Void is visually audacious, it weaves a stunning tapestry of sounds and colour, it’s structurally intriguing and these characters should be rich in pathos (actors like Paz de la Huerta and Olly Alexander put a stop to that), but the final product is empty. There are individual moments of wonder including one of the most flabbergasting, bravura, balls-to-the-wall opening credits sequences that you’re ever likely to see, but it’s all merely a temporary high. The initial effect is eye-opening, but then it’s all downhill and I just wished Noé would inject whatever energy he used for that LFO-soundtracked credits sequence into the rest of the film. Noé is like a drug dealer whose product is disappointing. I’ve sampled and now I’d like my money back. C-

One last think I feel I should mention and that’s the oft poorly used first person view. Enter the Void uses this for its opening act and while he certainly gets some good shots out of it, I always find the tactic an annoying one since nothing can replicate one’s actual field of vision. Especially as we’re watching it on a cinema screen with our own peripheral vision. Am I the only one who thinks this method of looking natural results in the exact opposite and looks incredibly fake?


JoFo said...

I'm going have to agree and disagree. I thought the film was fantastic, if overwrought. I honestly could have watched the drug trip scene for twice the length and the film has a emotional flow that is really moving.

Truth be told, I probably would have liked the film to be half an hour shorter and when it ended I did think "oh thank god", but the film was a unique film that I could take pleasure in how I hadn't seen anything like it before. I'm surprised I liked it so much actually considering I'm the one in my film studies whinging about Sally Potter and Tsai Ming Lang and waving the flag for films like Inception which everyone else thinks is terribly mainstream.

Sammu! said...

I like your review style, nice and personal! Now following and not bothering to watch Enter The Void - inspirational you :)

Glenn Dunks said...

Josh, I actually did like the initial drug trip scene, but it was inconsequential. I would rather watch another one of those than yet another scene of Paz de la Heurta "acting" in her grimy strip club.

I'd never seen anything like it before either, but perhaps there's a good reason for that.

Sammu, thanks!

Tom Clift said...

I'm in total agreement. The film was definitely audacious and visually impressive to a point, but after about twenty minutes you realise there's not much to back it up. The opening credits are the only part I have any interest in watching again.

JoFo said...

Yeah I'm not going to argue about Paz de la Heurta's "acting". I think the film could have been much better with someone better cast in such an important role.

Anonymous said...

I thought Paz De La Huerta was excellent in the film, she reminded me of Juliette Lewis in her prime, and I really believed her performance. It was an unhinged character and Huerta gave her depth and developed the character throughout the film without going over the top, in my opinion.

As for the comments about how the film would be enhanced under the influence, I watched this stoned and it blew my fucking mind! I can only imagine it in a darkened theatre littered with stoned cinema fans... its like a dream.

THe film was a bit lengthy and trialling, but overall I think that was a part of the effect. At times you had to endure enter the void, and if theres something gaspar noe likes to do its test his audiences endurance. I honestly didn't find much about the film that shocking, I actually really found the whole thing very comforting and joyous. Obviously the content was violent and disturbing, but the central idea that Oscar comes back to watch over his sister warms my heart. I loved this movie.