Noe thanks

Pub date October 5, 2010
SectionFilm Review

FILM Gaspar Noé wants to share. Yet after three features, it’s still unclear whether what he’s got on his mind is worth sharing, let alone anywhere near as urgent as his need to share it.

I Stand Alone (1998) skyrocketed him to the new Cinema of Misanthropy’s forefront by making us run the A-to-B emotional gamut of a belligerent butcher (Philippe Nahon) who hates everybody but his daughter. He loves her a little too much in the “shocking” finale. Naturally, this horrified a lot of people who expected something provocative but not that nasty. Nonetheless, it was also a movie whose conspicuous straining to frighten the horses could be experienced as pat, pretentious, overgrown adolescent nihilism.

Getting yea further up in yer face, Irreversible (2002) followed a Parisian couple (Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci) over the course of one long day that eventually steps off a cliff and leaves them both splattered to pulp beneath. Its reverse chronology stratagem meant the infamous violent episodes — one prolonged murder, one really prolonged rape-beating — came fairly early, leaving us stunned and vulnerable for scenes of ordinary, pre-catastrophe life more resonant than they would have been otherwise. Noé’s characters have no depth (or only as much as actors can themselves provide), but here the structure actually seemed to encourage our caring about people.

It took him seven more years to drop Enter the Void, a “psychedelic melodrama” that has polarized responses (hypnotized vs. narcotized) since it premiered in preliminary form at Cannes last year. This was Noé’s dream project all along, his big meditation on Life, Sex, and Death.

Oscar (first-time actor Nathaniel Brown) is a young American living in Tokyo with kid sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), dealing (and doing) drugs while she dances at a strip club. Caught delivering goods to a friend (whose mother he’s sleeping with), Oscar is killed by cops. The film’s remaining two hours — set up by blunt nods to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which our hero was reading — follow Oscar’s spirit as it floats through past, present, and future, eventually “escaping the circle” of this life’s consciousness via reincarnation.

Noé has fingered Kenneth Anger, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and classic 1947 noir Lady in the Lake‘s entirely subjective camera as influences. But you could label rave lighting and black-light posters as equally important. Much of Enter the Void would be absolutely great to go-go dance in front of. (Plus then you’d face away from all the irksome strobing bits.) Like the computerized luminescent jellyfish frequently undulating in Oscar’s visions, it’s a colorful, gelatinous mess some will find trippy, others stuporous. The FX work and stealth editing seldom detectible in Irreversible‘s seemingly unbroken shots are more obvious (not to mention endless) here. Repeated sequences stubbornly refuse to grow more meaningful.

As for the oversharing/underlying psychology … oy. Oscar is a blank we could care less about filling in, while women are objects of mammary desire both lactate and lust-based. Noé doesn’t refrain from such Freudosaurus antiques as the “I saw mommy and daddy fucking!” flashback, or the mawkish cliché of orphans vowing never to be separated, though what the Dickens, they are anyway. This being Noé, sibling proximity naturally equals incestuous longing. What if it didn’t? That would be shocking.

Enter the Void does tamp down the prior films’ racist and homophobic invective, which discomfited mostly because it felt like the filmmaker’s personal ranting. (Purportedly he edited himself as a masturbating spectator into Irreversible‘s nightmarish gay sex club — the Rectum! — lest he be taken for a homophobe. It says a lot that this was his idea of a conciliatory gesture.) Still, as attempted transcendence of mortal coil, Void ultimately sits and spins on Noé’s terminal literal-mindedness, no matter how many Day-Glo CGI vapors emit from vaginas.

Noé says his next project will be a love story. Very explicit of course: “We have been watching movies for almost a century {note: it’s been well over a century) and not one movie has gotten close to how love is in real life. I know what my sexual life is made of, and I want to see similar things on screen.”

Oh, great.

ENTER THE VOID opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters.