Friday, September 24, 2010

Bittersweet, Overblown Symphony

by James Hansen

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Gaspar Noé’s new film Enter The Void, which was born 163 minutes prematurely at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival before resuscitating itself in 137 minute (25 fps) form at Sundance 2010 where it was met with the critical divisiveness we have come to expect of Noé whose name has become associated with in-your-face extremes of violence, sex, not to mention ambition. Mention I Stand Alone (1998) or, better yet, Irreversible (2002) to your friends and see the response you get. It will likely be polarized, which should let you know whether or not you should invite them when you go see Enter The Void. In Enter The Void, Noé isn’t just trying to stir up the audience with flashing lights, effervescent camerawork, and an (overworked) narrative of life, death, and “The Void” as summarized in a few early conversations about The Tibetan Book of the Dead; one better (or worse), he’s trying to do all that while simultaneously blowing the brains out of the back of our skulls.

This, of course, leaves Enter The Void with some advantages (it is never not interesting and is sure to find a stoned, midnight cult following) and some drawbacks (shit gets retarded). Much as I’d like to avoid it, the story of Enter The Void follows the strange relationship a small time drug dealer, Oscar, and a nightclub stripper, his sister Linda. A bond and promise between the two, replayed several times in the film, refuses to be broken even after Oscar’s death. The camera pivots from Oscar’s actual POV and take up his would be soul as it floats around Tokyo finding visions of his past, present, future, and...the void.

This is already too much description for a film that wants to be treated as purely experiential. Noé’s insistence on crafting a filial melodrama where the emotional excess is taken up by the camera (hence, an surfeit of embarrassing Metaphors) ultimately undercuts the film as a pseudo avant-garde exercise creating a vision of “life” in The Void. Much as I wish I tried to put those issues aside, it becomes impossible as Enter The Void continues returning to the family bond where rules and logic are beaten out of the bluntest details.

Still, I still find myself defending Enter The Void (to myself). It’s drugged out vision of Oscar’s displacement and isolation in the superb neon, mutating lights of unfamiliar Tokyo is oddly beautiful and completely terrifying. As the 2010 movie year has floundered on with prepackaged, tidy, and downright lousy movies, Enter The Void, despite undoing itself with some enormous (not to mention hysterical) misfires in the final third when Noé is really swinging for the 2001 fences, has stuck with me. There might be no other movie I would rather see again in theaters this year. After my screening, I stumbled into the street, dazed, where the lights of Times Square shone down on thousands of other souls stumbling through the streets, looking at the lights, staring at each other, and floating into some beyond where I will never encounter them again. Then again, I never knew them to begin. For all the faults, Enter The Void, at least afterwards, made me think about my place and our places in the world. I’d never felt so lonely than among those thousands of strangers.

Yves Klein’s Le Saut dans le Vide (“Leap into the Void”) is a photograph of a performance by Klein in 1960 in which the artist leaped into space and nothingness. The photograph captures this instant where the body, floating in the air, is forever leaping into that void. When he made this leap, Klein said “to paint space, I must be in position. I must be in space.” In the photograph, Klein’s body becomes freely trapped in the beyond in both time and space. In Enter The Void, there are plenty of wonderful moments – enough to make it a must-see – where Noé’s camera, like Klein, becomes a timeless companion of the unexpected, beguiling void. Unfortunately, Noé (and Oscar) show us the full leap. As the cycle continues and continues and continues, ashes, ashes, it all falls down.


Joel Bocko said...

I don't know much about this movie, though I've heard it praise elsewhere. Something tells me I should read no more before viewing.

How was Klein about 1.5 seconds after that picture was taken?

JeanRZEJ said...

These are the sorts of ambivalent reactions to Enter the Void which are so troublesome. I wonder - if you saw it again would you latch onto those things I loved about it and see the intricate progression of its structure the way I saw it or would it all seem even more overblown? I mean, I think it is overblown in its middle section quite intentionally, both because the protagonist is supposed to be tripping on DMT and because Noé is utilizing the fairly broad limits of this premise to touch on the tragedy of the lives around him which the dying mind either imagines or expects to happen as a result of his actions and absence. Then, after a jaunt through the city he ends up in a purely imaginary love hotel where his hopes for his loved ones' future manifest themselves in an instance of procreation which becomes his greatest wish, another chance at life to fulfill his promise to his sister. I think it's wonderfully constructed, myself, and the ending makes perfect sense. But will anyone else see it? I don't know!