Argentinian filmmaker Gaspar Noe knows how to shock us, and that's definitely what he does with his latest feature, Enter The Void, which premiered Friday afternoon in Cannes. Highly anticipated for a while, Noe has been working to finish the film in time for its late-festival slot. Therefore, it comes to Cannes with little preliminary chatter, save for some blog hype based on a few stills and a hypnotic promo reel seen at earlier film markets.
There were even rumors that he may not finish the film in time. But he did, and the final product is perhaps the most challenging film to premiere in the Cannes Official Selection this year. Nathaniel Brown plays Oscar, an American living in Tokyo who is addicted to psychotropic drugs like DMT. His sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta), lives along with him in Tokyo and for some reason, works as a stripper. One night, Oscar is called to deliver some drugs to a friend in a bar, when he discovers he's been set up. The cops gun him down, and we then spend the rest of the film understanding two realities: the events that led up to all of this and the aftermath of Oscar's death.
The above paragraph sounds simple enough, but the techniques employed by Noe are anything but. From the beginning, we see the world as Oscar sees it, with the camera mounted as if we're looking through his eyes (complete with occasional blinking). When Oscar is killed, his out-of-body experience becomes the viewers mode of discovery. The camera floats from locale to locale (often using sources of light as a transition tool). At first, Oscar is reminded of his childhood with Linda, which included their parents' grisly death in a car accident. Linda and Oscar form an unusually tight bond during their youth, which later in life compels Oscar to raise cash by becoming a drug dealer, so that he can fly his adoring sister to his new home in Japan. Linda needs to make some money, and falls into a bad crowd of strippers and club owners. This backstory, and Noe's flawless editing methods, are captivating. The film is dark and experimental, but never boring.
All of this occurs through the first 90 minutes. The rest of the film (75 or so minutes) gets a little tiresome as Oscar's spirit eavesdrops on the rather dull events of his sister and their friends, following his death. Noe's visual style is solid, but the momentum achieved by the brilliant first half slows to a crawl. The references and inspiration from The Tibetan Book of the Dead create interesting symbolism, but there's a lack of drive in the last half of the story. It's clever to use a sleezy sex motel as the film's "bardo of rebirth," but did that sequence have be so long? A properly divisive film, Enter The Void was met with many walk-outs but also a lengthy standing ovation. I don't agree with either response. The disturbing imagery of the film (a graphic abortion scene, intercourse "filmed" from the POV of the uterus) didn't bother me, it was the lumbering pauses and repetitive exchanges involving characters we aren't nearly as interested in as Oscar and Linda.
Personally, I admire Gaspar Noe and what he did with the film. I have a soft spot for the enfants terribles like Lukas Moodyson, Carlos Reygadas, and Lars Von Trier. What these guys are doing is some of the bravest fictional filmmaking left in the world. And, like these fellow filmmakers, Gaspar Noe may need to go back in and trim his latest work. Not because it shouldn't shock and dare, but because it shouldn't meander.