Gaspar Noe has made three feature films. Each has gotten progressively worse. 1998’s I Stand Alone is easily his masterpiece. 2002’s Irreversible is problematic, but a solid film. It’s the technical mastery and ultra-violent/sexual content that made 2009’s Enter the Void highly anticipated.
Enter the Void is a long drug trip in the form of a posthumous out of body experience. I caught the film in its full 160 minute form on the big screen after having previously seen the 140 minute version on Netflix. The best part of the film is the first 45 minutes. The opening credits sequence is deservedly praised and Noe’s impossibly swooping camera renders Tokyo in all of its neon glory.
Then comes the next 115 minutes, which is basically a repeat of everything we’ve already seen both from a visual and narrative perspective. Noe offers very little new and his favoring of form over content falls rapidly with a thud.
Here’s what makes Enter the Void a good film: it adheres to such an all-out visual strategy, throwing all cinematic convention out the window that it is truly breathtaking for its first act. The sound design-score hybrid is omni-present in its low frequency undertones, really helping the action progress and adding an appropriately dreamy atmosphere.
Here’s what makes Enter the Void a bad film: it’s at least 60 minutes too long. 60 minutes! By my calculations that’s 1/24 of a day! The dialogue is horrifically written. The philosophy behind it, if you can call it that, is shallow and hollow. The acting, with the exception of Victor (Olly Alexander) is pretty poor. And my god is it redundant.
Purportedly inspired by the 1947 Robert Montgomery experimental noir Lady in the Lake, which offers a complete first-person POV for the entirety of the film, Enter the Void takes that technique to its (hopeful) end. Lady in the Lake was a gimmick. A fun and unintentionally funny exercise in cinematic wonderment. One would think that 60+ years later Noe might have the advantage of hindsight to realize its limitations. He doesn’t. 1947 actually saw two first-person POV films, as Dalmer Daves’ Bogart-Bacall vehicle Dark Passage was also released that year. What makes the Daves’ picture the most successful of the the three is that it realizes that the POV is indeed contrived, and switches, thankfully, to third person about halfway through.
By establishing the POV style early on, Noe essentially directs himself into a trap. If he switches to third person without a direct motivation (as there is in the aforementioned Dark Passage) then it’s a cop-out. If he keeps it first person, as he does, he runs the risk of it feeling tired.
The craning, gliding camera moves this way and that throughout Tokyo and basically replaces the crosscut. For example, one sequence alternates between Linda (Paz de la Huerta) at a strip club and Victor in the streets. Basic film knowledge: cut between both people and locations (cross or intercutting) to imply simultaneous action. Since Noe has established that his dead character can basically fly but not transport through present time, he is forced to literally crane the camera back and forth across the two locations. It’s a dizzying method that, as with the entire film, is unique and fun the first time, and then just serves to kill time and show us things we’ve seen already.
Were this an 80-90 minute film it may well be really great.