Cannes 2009: A Time and Space Odyssey ("Enter the Void," Noé)

Daniel Kasman

The only avant-garde film in Cannes’ Competition is Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, which picks up the gauntlet thrown down by the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer of an endlessly malleable cinema of acid-trip colors and plastic gymnastics and runs with it to endless, forceful, and nihilistic results.  The problem the Wachowskis couldn’t solve was perspective—how to justify in their story what they were showing visually.  That film took risks, but could neither explain why, nor push those risk far enough due to a reliance on Hollywood restrictions of story and content. Noé, the man behind Irreversible, has no such problems.  Springing from ideas explored in video games from the past ten years and by Stanley Kubrick (stealing from 2001 wholesale but also brilliantly pursuing and exploring The Shining), Enter the Void literally takes a first-person view of its protagonist—a heavily tripping American drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown) living in Tokyo—until he dies and his vision is freed from his body, which proceeds to fly around the city following what happens to his corpse and to his beloved sister (Paz de la Huerta).

Noé shoots Enter the Void under the illusion the entire film is one long take that segues between points of view: the first-person, seen-through-the-eyes view of the living boy; a third-person, over-the-shoulder view of the boy’s life seen in flashbacks; and the hyper-third-person, God’s eye view of the boy’s floating consciousness.  That last one takes up most of the film and is the most structurally interesting, as Noé suggests an entire elimination of editing in his film by camera movement.  Instead of cutting between sequential events, the camera cranes out of a room and then swoops over Tokyo, passing though other buildings and rooms before landing in the next scene.  If time has passed between one scene and the next, instead of literally transversing physical space Noé’s camera—again, the dead boy’s view point—achieves a metaphysical ability, plunging into lights and traveling through a psychedelic ether to emerge, on the other side, some time and space later.  These transitions may grow tedious as this nearly three-hour movie goes on and one realizes every time we have to change scenes we literally have to travel between all this space and time, but the literal visualization of what happens between an edit is unexpectedly like watching film theory come to life.  More than anything else, Enter the Void is indeed an experiment in visualization, of taking conventional ideas of focalization in dramatic cinema—what perspective a story is told from—which usually lurk quasi-invisibly under the surface of storytelling, and flips the emphasis on its head.  Instead of seeing a story visualized, we see the visualization of a story.

If I haven’t talked much about this story it’s because there isn’t much of one.  Enter the Void takes place in a nocturnal world of drug trips, heavy bass house music, strip clubs and love hotels, and an extreme heightening of the most clichéd visual trope of Japanese cities, florescent neon.  It is a grimly vacant world, a place evacuated of characters, of morality, of sentimentality, of drama.  There is nothing to care about, except the visual splendor, invention, and ideas that move through this emptiness.  While Noé grossly missteps in reaching for 2001’s stars of grand structuralist explorations of birth, life, and death, Enter the Void is a vision of a kind of mainstream post-mainstream film that knowingly eliminates all that might be poignant about cinema beyond aesthetics.  And aesthetics are all that remain: the slickly uncomfortable flow of the false long takes that walk down streets and stairs, plunge into throbbing clubs, move through characters heads, take on the point of view of semen—all are ideas turned into moving images, audacious but lifeless, vibrant and morose.

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