Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Review of Enter the Void (Noe, 2010)

Enter the Void
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander
Grade: C+

Eight years ago, divisive filmmaker Gaspar Noé divided critics and audiences worldwide with the extremely violent Irreversible. While the reverse-narrative approach of that film does not return to haunt his new effort, "Enter the Void", the menacing, toxic tone remains present. He again focuses on figures drawn into criminal underworlds, and chronicles how the darker aspects of our personalities can emerge through circumstances that are on the peripherary of our realm of control. Fledgling drug dealer Oscar (Brown) is murdered in a Tokyo hangout, before re-emerging as a ghost to observe the lives of the various people who have shaped his fate.

Noé's film is named after the club in which we see Oscar murdered, but also because he himself is 'entering the void', or at least encouraging us to. People like Oscar die every day without so much as an inch in a newspaper column, because their deaths aren't deemed as damaging enough to society. We're discouraged from understanding them. We can't understand them. "Enter the Void" shows us that every life and death has a meaning for somebody, even if it does flog that meaning far too much.

As with Irreversible, Noé's visual style correlates well with the allure of the various vices in the film, the mystery and danger of being out of control. What's special about Noe's implementation of this is that it's also frightening and intimidating, as if he's beying us to even challenge this mode of generating mood and suspense. It's formidable. "Enter the Void" is a more intrusive, confined entity in the way that its trippy opening credits induce seizure, in the way that he uses point-of-view to place us inside Oscar without us being able to fully realise outsiders' perceptions of him. For stretches of his living moments he's faceless, much like the inevitable way in which his death will be consigned to phatic conversation on the street.

What's incredibly frustrating about the film is that, after the 40 minutes of present-day turmoil, there is a flashback of Oscar and his sister's difficult childhood and subsequent bond. It feels particularly manipulative in terms of constructing a voice for Oscar that wasn't there before, imposing sympathy where we don't need it. Noé does a terrific job in making us interested in this man, making us think for ourselves about his motives and failures, that a ten-minute montage of his life story feels a somewhat crass way of filling in the gaps. Moreover, the subsequent hour of the film is so pedantic in its desire to inform, to thoroughly dissect Oscar with an autopsy that doesn't get performed for real. Gus Van Sant's Elephant had similar problems with dragging out a paltry story, though that didn't make it much past the 80-minute mark. In that regard, "Enter the Void" is done about halfway through, the rest dedicated to re-iterating social observations through flashy, disorientating cinematography, and canny manipulation of colour.

The striking images in "Enter the Void" that act as either transitory or symbolic, are nearly always fiercely provocative, and there is much to be said for immersive visuality in inciting our emotions and intellect, as well as our gaze. But as a tripped-out anti-parable the film is much too unevenly skewed towards disguising the overkill of a narrative that severely loses drive. The relative convention of the film's approach to storytelling in its first act doesn't mesh well enough with the overwhelming sense of abstract that succeeds it. There's much to extract from its deadened sense of humanity, but, unlike its chaotic protagonists, "Enter the Void" feels that bit too eager to settle.

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