Nothing’s ever easy with Gasper Noé. For starters, try getting your hands on any of his previous films in the UK. If you’ve tried already, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, don’t bother. None of them are available to rent, buy or download, which just seems silly in an age of films, and everything else, on demand.
His new film, Enter The Void, is just as challenging, though not as challenging to see. If you’re quick you can catch it in select cinemas from this Friday, although chances are the likes of Vue and Odeon won’t be lining up too many screenings. (More on that later.)
Rather, the biggest hurdle is sitting through it to the end, a statement best read as both complement and indictment all wrapped up in one. Because Enter The Void is part incredible piece of filmmaking, part gruelling test of stamina. Not such a surprise, coming from the man who made Irreversible.
And no one’s expecting Noé to make a heart-warming family drama. True, he centres on a family of sorts here, but he leaves the heart-warming a million miles behind. And the family isn’t the kind that has Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker cracking funny (well, trying to crack funny).
Noé’s camera follows Oscar, a small-time drug dealer, and his sister, Linda, a nightclub stripper through modern Tokyo. Although “follows” may not be the right word. For the first half hour, Void is shot entirely as subjective point-of-view from Oscar as he trawls the streets.
Not only that, in a move that would make Brian De Palma baulk, Noé presents it as one unbroken shot that takes in drug-fuelled kaleidoscopes, sprawling cityscapes and a burst of frenzied action.
It’s a staggering sequence, an opening that stands like a declaration of intent: this is not going to be an easy ride. Or one that follows a path laid down by others. Most ‘how to write a screenplay’ tomes impart the same piece of crucial advice: enter late and leave early. Give the audience what they need to join the dots of the story, then get the hell out of there.
Noé isn’t one to follow convention, however. He enters early and just stays there, not even offering a narrative thread to tie it all together. Void‘s early scenes are like fly-on-the-wall snippets, conversations that touch on everyday banalities like trying to find a bottle of water before darting off into darker territory.
And after that bravura opening, Noé still refuses to give us a linear story. Or even just a story. Enter The Void jumps back and forth in time to vertiginous effect, and so there’s nothing to really latch on to, nothing to connect to amidst all the technical virtuosity. This is film as mediation on reincarnation, the fleeting nature of existence, Oedipal desire, and much more else besides.
It’s dizzying, but also uncomfortably jarring. Just when the film settles into some kind of rhythm, Noé comes crashing in to make sure we’re paying attention. And while that can make for a tough watch, it makes for an occasionally thrilling one too. After a summer of so many damp blockbusters pedalling the same tired story over and over, Enter The Void is the perfect antidote, a shot of pure adrenaline next to a Jerry Bruckheimer administered sleeping pill.
There’s a Kubrickian confidence to Noé’s filmmaking style, and more than a passing resemblance to A Clockwork Orange. Watching Void you feel like Malcolm McDowell’s Alex in the film’s most iconic scene, eyes pried open and subjected to ghastly images that you want to turn away from, but somehow can’t (unless you’re the ones that walked out of the film’s press screening).
There’s a constant throb and pulse to Void, the rumbling soundtrack and hallucinatory images painting Tokyo as a city forever on edge. It’s a vibrant, electric dream for the first hour, a neon-tinged nightmare for the second.
It’s in the latter that the film loses its grip, when Noé’s script abandons its principal character and gives nothing back in return. There’s a void that doesn’t get filled (deliberate, perhaps?), and the film can’t quite marry its dazzling visuals to something, or someone, worth caring about. As such, the last thirty minutes are hard work.
They’re like Requiem For A Dream‘s downward spiral made even more harrowing. Noé throws in some taboo-busting images for good measure, one coming off like an X-rated version of Look Who’s Talking‘s opening credit sequence, another likely to turn half the audience against him. But that, you suspect, is partly his intention.
Enter The Void is a film you’ll love or hate, or love and hate. It’s incredible, exhausting, frustrating, unforgettable, bewildering and indulgent in equal measure. One thing it is guaranteed to do is provoke a reaction. And that’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?