TIFF09 REVIEW: Enter the Void [2009]

“Did they hear me? Did I scream?”

Words can seriously not describe the visually rich and assaulting epic tale of death and its aftermath of memories and spiritual travel that is Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. Self-proclaimed as “weird” by the director himself at it’s World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, (the print screened at Cannes was a work-in-progress), he says his attempt was to create a near death experience on film. So, with stunning imagery; fullscreen frames of solid bright color pulsating at epileptic seizure-inducing rates; extended moments of seamless cutting to make long passages appear to be one take; first person camera-work spliced from straight shots merging into fish-eye lens distortion; extreme close-ups, either computer generated or otherwise, appearing as though a fly filmed the entire thing while in flight; and just the maze-like electricity of downtown Tokyo at night, one must actually sit down and experience it, letting it wash over you, to fully appreciate the work. Noé is a genius of some kind, always on the fringes of the industry, appalling some, disgusting others, and written off by the rest, yet I can’t genuinely say I’d recommend anyone seeing this movie. And therein lies the problem, if words can’t describe it and I couldn’t in good conscience send you to see it due to the extensive drug use, realistic sex scenes, and harrowing moments of graphic brutality, what else is there to do?

It definitely is an important film to the industry, though, just in the technical prowess on display. Noé has an eye for cinema, utilizing who knows what for shots that I’ve never seen before. He said after the screening that a lot of post-production was necessary to craft every moment into the piece of art he finished with. Aerial shots of the cities were recreated with computers, frames were meticulously darkened or lightened when needed, (the auteur is so specific and detail-oriented that when the film ended he came up and said he’d never seen it so dark, the projector must be different than his, but what could he do?), and the giant phallus that is mentioned everywhere when speaking of the movie is an interesting moment because there is no way you could put a camera where it would be needed to capture that shot. There are religious underpinnings laid throughout between a Buddhist book given to our lead Oscar to peruse or the issue of reincarnation and whether the soul traveling after his death was finding itself a new vessel to be reborn in or just a journey back, recalling his own conception. Noé mentioned that he wanted it to feel like the time he watched the Lady in the Lake on mushrooms; I can’t say I’ve ever done hallucinogens, but I can imagine the feeling would be similar to watching this work.

There is so much to absolutely love as a cinephile here. The flashbacks to a time where Oscar and his sister Linda were in each others’ lives, orphans after the horrific death of their parents, are shot with a filter to make them magically fairytale-like; the amount of crap crammed into each frame of the present, whether in Oscar’s apartment, a nightclub bathroom of filth during a supposed drug dropoff, or the dressing room of Linda’s strip club, or even the fictional “Hotel Love” made real in our dying spirit’s vision from an elaborate model city shown to him some time before is immense; and the enhanced close-ups, again, are phenomenal—swooping up from an ashtray with a lit cigarette lying inside, burning and sizzling away … just gorgeous in a messed up way, much like a lot of things here. Speaking of the parents’ death, what a sequence showing the car crash that took their lives. The sound is deafening, the truck’s headlights coming straight for us as we watch it from the backseat, and the visceral, physical feeling of being rocked back yourself from the impact you cannot feel, it is seriously that effective. You become Oscar, transported into the movie to live through the chaos and turmoil. I’m liking the movie more and more as I write this essay, reliving the scenes and remembering how they grabbed me and threw me around … and yet I still don’t know if I’ll ever want to—or have the chance to—see it again. Do not expect this thing hitting a local multiplex any time in the near future; it’s subject matter going way beyond your regular NC-17 flick.

I do not want to nitpick the acting, since it is such a small part of the ride, but you can’t help notice the amateurish quality. Nathaniel Brown plays Oscar—who admittedly isn’t in the film as a person you see very much, more so utilized as voiceover at the start—in a debut role. Listening to him speak, while looking out through his eyes, can be somewhat painful as his line delivery is awkward and not quite realistic. The second lead, Linda, is played by Paz de la Huerta, a friend of Noé who said at the screening that she was surprised when cast, not realizing she was even up for the part. She has an extensive filmography of small roles, but one must wonder whether she earned the spot due to her being okay with nude and sex scenes rather than her acting skill. Again, though, the performances come secondary to any other visual flourish shown as the people really just become pawns to be played with and shot within the atmospheric environments. But there is one riveting turn, by Emily Alyn Lind as young Linda in flashbacks, needing to be mentioned. Wow, is this little girl phenomenal. Her screaming, inside the car at the moment of the crash looking at her bloodied parents, or being taken away by a family from her brother for adoption, sent chills down my spine. So emotionally draining, I worry for the parents who let her act in a film like this, in a role so demanding, but can’t deny the power she adds, literally being the best actor by far.

There really isn’t any more to say. Just know going in that the journey will be difficult to complete but wondrous if you open your mind to its out-of-the-box beauty. Straight from the get-go, with an extended title sequence quickly flashing every single name of anyone who worked on the project in a strobe light effect, you begin to see the job your eyes and mind have before them. I might buy the film on DVD just to pause through this opening to see the myriad of fonts and letter treatments used, each frame different. Even Noé’s name itself, flying by numerous times due to his extensive work as its creator, is changed every instance, sometimes resembling a metal band’s logo, sometimes a video game title, but always going a tad too quick to really know what you’re seeing. And that is a good way to sum it all up; Enter the Void runs through 155 minutes of disturbing and magical imagery, overwhelming you at every turn in its rapid pace. An audience member asked the director if he questioned the inclusion of any scene, to which Noé responded, “If it made the movie, I must have liked it”. No truer words could be said as this two-years-in-the-making opus was crafted from a love only a parent and child can share, and it shows.

Enter the Void 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

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