Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ENTER THE VOID: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander
Director: Gaspar Noé
Runtime: 154 min.
Country: France
Verdict: I tried hard, real hard for 4 nights. And despite the overflowing amount of graphic sex, I couldn’t watch the film past the 1 hour 20 min. mark.
Genre: Drama

        Cinephiles, film historians please help me here. A friend of me tells me about this filmmaker during the 30s who tried to do what Mr. Noé does here, i.e. have the camera act as an eye. No, no, not be an approximation of an eye, but actually be the eye. That filmmaker left the act midway realizing that this experimentation was actually counter-productive to the inherent nature of the medium. Right on the money, I say. A camera can never ever be the eye. You see, food is served on the table. We like to pick up the spoon, taste the dishes for ourselves, and eat them the way we please. Now imagine the hotel chef walking out and picking up the spoon and putting it into your mouth as per his whims and fancies while you’re seated on the chair. Sure, you might like it, but then it can never be eating. It is called feeding. I don’t know, but life is a visual and emotional and spiritual buffet, right? And cinema is a menu-item list that tries its best to approximate the real deal. The trick then is to conceal the approximation, not bring it to the fore and dispel any semblance of the illusion.
        It is interesting to note Mr. Noé’s intention here. He describes the film as a “psychedelic experience”. (Courtesy: Wikipedia). He suggests that his choice for English as the language was guided by one idea – the want to have the audience focus only on the images and not be distracted by any subtitles. I don’t ask of you to watch the entire film, and you might not even be able to. Enter the Void is quite literally a void in time, with the most derivative and unimaginative little camera trick of first putting the camera right inside the person, and then behind the head and assuming that the audience will conveniently experience what the character is experiencing. I don’t know, but to me it feels like a technique fresh out of film school. I mean, if there has ever been a more literal way of filmmaking it escapes my memory. I say again, as I have always been saying, a particular composition or camera placement alone does not reflect a desired emotional state. Something like a perspective, or psychology, or state of mind, can never be achieved by camera trickeries alone. Numerous filmmakers have tried to shake the camera, or tilt the camera but it only increases the obviousness of the artifice. If the trick alone would’ve worked, wouldn’t filmmaking be merely an exercise in How to do it yourself?
        What rather works, or what rather is true filmmaking is mise-en-scène. As the Koreans, the modern masters of cinematic craft suggest via Kim Ji-Woon in I Saw the Devil, even a medium close-up when used judiciously could make us forget our staring tendencies and serve as a perspective shot. It is because of the build-up, of the editing, of the acting and a lot more than I can even think of. Did we experience the opening battle of Saving Private Ryan only because the camera was hand-held? Or think why the opening act of Inglorious Basterds is one of the great scenes in cinema? Andrei Tarkovsky rarely used a behind-your-head perspective shot, and yet his films are all about perspective. Mr. Noé instead merely picks the camera and goes about the experience sharing. It is funny that the project has been gestating within him since his adolescence.
        Enter the Void starts off with a flashy bit of credit sequence where you hardly get to read anything except the names of the filmmaker, which make an appearance more than once, and that of some actors. If some member of the crew decides to sue Mr. Noé for not sharing the credit, I might very well understand they are coming from. The sequence hardly serves any purpose other than to provide for a sound-and-light show. It is cool it is flashy and it is empty. What we then have is Oscar (Mr. Brown) in his room with his sister Linda (Ms. Huerta). They are talking, and she is moving, and the camera moves around. Looks up, looks sideways, look down. It even blinks. How I am supposed to experience it all, without noticing the film technique is beyond me. It would be beyond you too.
        Oscar is a junkie, and a drug dealer. There’s a lengthy scene at the start where we experience the drug-daze through him, as he falls onto the bed, and talks to himself, and imagines designs in the air that resemble the Windows Media Player graphic designs when you play songs on them. You can see how into the experience I was, and how successful Mr. Noé’s little trick is. I mean, I was thinking of the technique and then veered off into how I would describe the scene in the review and then drew comparisons to the star-gaze in 2001 and then grew aware of my thinking and re-traced my thought process and then the scene was over. You could say I was drug induced for I was having my own thoughts, but then if Mr. Noé were to have left a blank screen I guess I would still be sitting here reciting similar details and arguments and inferences.
        Oscar then is shot dead by the cops. If you are curious how and why, watch the film. Then you’ll also learn about the weird relationship between him and his sister. Once he is dead, the camera moves outside and behind him so that the back of his head is always between us and the frame. It is a bit like sitting behind a tall guy. Actually Mr. Noé composes the frame pretty astutely as far as placing the head is concerned. Here’s a typical frame post-dead –

        You see, it is pretty fine. What he does with it subsequently is the cause of bother. He continues with the montage with the head at the same location. Something like this –







        It is real tough even for the most causal viewer, even to the couple who is sitting in the far corner and has bought the ticket just to indulge in a little make-out session, to miss this editing pattern and not notice this head. Although it is within the frame, gradually it seems to pop right out of it.
        There’s another moment that highlights this cinematic redundancy. Post-death Oscar’s junkie friend Alex calls Linda to inform her of the death. Linda is a stripper and is busy in a little in-out. The guy is her boss. He stops her from picking up the call. What is happening here is that Oscar, who’s dead, is hovering (literally), and can see everything from above. So he is watching from above as Alex calls, and then he travels (literally), and watches his sister enjoy her sex. So basically, the omniscience that is inherent to the arts like literature and cinema is laboriously made a cinematic technique via the character. I mean, the motion that is inherent to an edit is physically portrayed as motion through space. I wonder the benefits of such an ungainly little exercise. I saw ungainly because Mr. Noé has lots of stuff that he wants to say. He is dealing in pure montage theory here, wherein a moment where Oscar watches a woman undress before him and her breasts exposed is cut to his childhood where he is seeing his naked mother in the bathtub with her breasts exposed. A memory where he watches his father enjoy a little doggy session with his mother is cut to a memory of his friend Alex enjoy a similar session. And there’s of course the whole deal going on with his sister. It is quite a tricky little topic Mr. Noé is talking about, and yet his filmmaking is not merely distracting but is offensive on these delicate issues. I can understand the lack of understanding on Mr. Noé’s part. But there was a whole crew there. Didn’t they have anything to say?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I guess Mr.Noe glimpsed the image in your blog title, and said "Hey, I have an idea!" :P
- Amit

Anonymous said...

excellent article. I was unimpressed by Enter the Void and you came at it in a way I have yet to properly articulate.

JeanRZEJ said...

I think anything but a first person camera technique is a monstrous gimmick, myself. Why is there a camera sitting at eye level right across from these people at a table? Why is it now 4 inches away from their hand holding a coffee cup? Why is it now sitting outside waiting for the people to come outside? None of this has any basis in anything, just a series of gimmicks in order to convey information. For Enter the Void there is never a single question about why the camera is placed somewhere in the context of the film. Why is it here? That is what the character is seeing. Now you are free to say - why is the character seeing this, rather than - why is this third party looking at the character this way? This becomes far more interesting than a simple story following a person through their life when he dies and everything becomes a halluciation, as everything he sees is an impression from his mind and memories. This seems to me to be the most effective method of investigating a character, by actually inhabiting a mind allowed to free associate rather than merely a brain dealing with existing realities or - in a regular film - someone putting a camera to view someone dealing with existing realities from a number of vantage points with no particular rationale. But, I mean, if you want to dismiss it - go ahead. Not my loss.

man in the iron mask said...

JeanRZEJ, The camera has always been, and will always be the prime indicator of what the director intends, and what we feel, why the director intends that, and why we are feeling what we are feeling.

As Scorsese says, It is all a question of what's inside the frame, and what's outside of it.

What you say is true. Camera by itself is a not a gimmick, it is a window opened by the filmmaker. The way he chooses to show what he wants to show. And that is what we are engaging with.

My argument is placing a head before the camera is quite needless. As an audience, we are already doing the same. With the head, I am noticing a film school technique.

Anonymous said...

At first I though it was a bad joke. Kind of experimental movie you need to be on acid to enjoy.
Then I felt my first impression was right.
Later I got curious.
At the end I believe its a strange, good movie that sucks. Anyway its different.That is something these days.