Friday, October 29, 2010

Guest Review - ENTER THE VOID (Extended version)

The following is a guest review by Alex, fellow cineaste, and proponent of the Flat White:

If you can leave Gaspar Noé’s excellent Enter the Void (the full extended version clocks in at 2 hours and 37 minutes) without feeling a little tripped out, you may have a pretty serious drug problem. Noé himself has said of the film: “The best and worst response I got from the movie is that when you come out, you feel stoned”.

The frenetic, almost three minute-long opening credit sequence primes the viewer, Pranayama-breathing style, for the coming meditation on life, death, sex, family ties, trauma, and the division between reality and perception.

Brother, Oscar, and sister, Linda, (played by relative unknowns Nathaniel Brown and Paz De La Huerta respectively) live together in downtown Tokyo – he’s a drug-dealer and she’s a go-go dancer who is casually sleeping with her boss. He’s also casually sleeping with his friend’s mother. After Oscar gets high on MBT, a psychotropic drug which, it is hinted, like Peyote, can recreate for the user a near-death experience, his friend betrays him when he finds out about his mother’s liaison with Oscar, leading to a confrontation with the police in which Oscar is shot. At this point reality smudges, and we are unsure whether our man is dead or merely tripping out.

The film, shot up to this point from a first-person perspective, switches to Brian De Palma-like astral shots as we voyeuristically float around Tokyo observing the characters from above. If the psychedelically colourful and geometrical sequences immediately after Oscar takes MBT haven’t put you off or given you a headache by now, you’ll have surrendered fully to Noé and will be enjoying the cinematic device. Switching from a painful first hand point of view to an almost deistic removal from the characters is a powerful tool. We are at once removed from and then put close to the plot.

Expect nothing less than an epic, emotionally raw tale. In particular a car crash sequence which is pivotal to the plot of the film and the relationship between the brother and sister who are the main two protagonists is scouring, but efficiently so. By lingering on its aftermath, placing the viewer in the back seat of the car itself, one is forced to experience the blood-spattered, helpless infants’ trauma first hand. It is effective and feels necessary to the development of the plot and not overly self-indulgent, unlike the aforementioned scene in Irreversible. It’s also key to understanding the sister’s incestuous love for her brother, and the dreamy climactic scene, which is made more credible by the bond they’ve formed out of this shared trauma.

Atmospheric and visceral, in particular the abortion and conception scenes, ETV doesn’t disappoint, toying with ideas of death and life and entertaining us in one fell swoop.

I would hate to think that ETV falls between the cracks of controversy and hippy notoriety. For despite the inevitable comparisons with “2001: A Space Odyssey” (not undeserving and not entirely a bad thing in my view) the film deserves to become far more than a druggie favourite, a sophisticate’s Cheech and Chong. By toeing the line between reality and the trip, I was put in mind of the excellent Shutter Island more than any other film.

Noé is clearly intent on recreating a hallucinogenic experience, and the repetition of certain scenes (watch out for the subtle differences; writing on walls, the colours of Linda’s dresses) and his non-linear style certainly do help, as well as making the film more involving and enjoyable. Ultimately though it is at best the first derivative of a bad trip.

A good movie which also lasts over ninety minutes is one in which I am not tempted to look at my watch until the credits roll. By this measure, ETV succeeds. We want to know if Oscar is indeed dead or just spacing out. Noé ensures that we care enough about the sibling protagonists by investing us in them, inuring us with their childhood experiences and pain.

Many people consider Irreversible his seminal movie, however he has comfortably surpassed it with ETV. His trade-mark fascination with the gritty underworld, drugs and sex (without or without love and often sharply contrasted), everything else which sits outside of society’s norms and his willingness to reel the audience in and out are even more in evidence in the sequitur. Redemptive and intense, ETV is arguably a moral tale, if not cathartic and beautiful to watch.

Cinema-goers who treat films as indulgent escapism, like myself, will not be disappointed. From the very start it is gripping and visually engaging - sit close to the screen, low in your seat, and wallow in its sybaritic splendour.

ENTER THE VOID played Cannes, Toronto and London 2009 in versions of varying length and played Sundance 2010. It went on release in France, Japan, Belgium, Estonia, Germany and Finland earlier this year, and is still on release in the UK, the US and the Netherlands.

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