SXSW Review: Enter the Void

By  · Published on March 16th, 2010

We all know that film is a collaborative medium, but some films give the impression of such a strong singular vision as if the work itself were simply the direct projection of the director’s imagination onto the screen, with all the ease of such a vision achieved that my statement implies. With respect to Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, by “ease” I mean that the film is as much of a technical accomplishment as it is artistically ambitious. Noe’s camera weaves in and out of buildings, through walls, across planes of consciousness, and even moves in and out of human bodies – not to make explicit the overt sign of a great technical accomplishment that such a feat truly is, but through various means in the context of the film such an employment of technique feels more like a pure manifestation of the many things that we in the extents of our imaginations wish film could actually do. Like many an astoundingly ambitious an original film, Enter the Void is profoundly flawed in many respects, but the epic 2.5+ hour meandering journey that this film takes you on is, often simultaneously, a frustrating and euphoric singular cinematic experience.

Enter the Void is Noe’s first feature since 2002’s Irreversible, a film whose notorious real-time rape scene and challenging stytlistic choices caused massive walkouts at its Cannes premiere. Enter the Void is an equally challenging film, but for drastically different reasons.

Both films are similar in that they each have a nonlinear approach to examining an inciting act of violence at its center, exploring how one violent action is determined by what came before and how it affects all involved after. The film takes place (mostly) in Tokyo amongst a group of English-speaking friends living in the city. Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is a drug dealer, and his sister Linda (Limits of Control’s Paz de la Huerta), who he paid to fly to Tokyo to reunite as siblings, is a stripper. The film (both literally and in terms of narrative structure) circles around a drug deal gone horribly wrong, and Noe lends his restlessly wandering lens to Oscar and Linda’s childhood (which involves a similarly traumatic incident), Oscar’s life in Tokyo before Linda’s arrival, and Linda’s life after the film’s inciting occurrence.

While plot is always apparent in Enter the Void, it’s a secondary element when experiencing the film itself. The story as a framing device is a rather weak one when taking into consideration that the film has exhausted its thematic developments and possibilities to a breaking point long before its running time is complete, but it is in Noe’s vision, rather than the story – or even meaning – behind it, that the real worth of Enter the Void lies.

In some ways, Enter the Void is a more “complete” film than Irreversible. Where his previous feature’s extended journeys through dark landscapes provided little more than formal indulgences that stuck around long after they had served their purpose (notably the extended gay night club scene at the beginning or the subway conversation towards the end) between its notable bouts of brilliance, the wandering uncut camera of Enter the Void is justified by its intended perspective. The film is a case study in the subjective eye of the camera’s relationship to personal subjectivity as it stays within an almost exclusively consistent viewpoint of one of the film’s central characters, even after that character stops being an active participant in the story. Every moment of Enter the Void’s unique (sometimes frustratingly so) stylistic decisions serve the thematic and narrative purpose of the story being told.

Paz de la Huerta’s performance is disappointingly stuck between sexpot and grown adolescent. The film’s religious themes are interesting when one discovers the structure of the movie as a whole by the film’s end, but they are, unfortunately, skin-deep. Noe’s camera isn’t any less indulgent than it’s been in his previous work, but Enter the Void (especially in its first half) occasionally achieves profound moments of a transcendent cinematic experience, an encouraging example of how cinema possesses the potential to eliminate or manipulate any sober conception of lived time and space. It reaches beyond previously perceived limits of cinema’s capability and disguises its technical achievement through immersion into its dreamlike, hallucinatory aura. This experience of immersion isn’t consistent throughout, but by the very end of Enter the Void you’ll literally have gone places you never thought the kino-eye could go.

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