May 29, 2011

On DVD: Enter the Void

I was afraid of this movie by Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) because I'm not a fan of his self-indulgent, kinky pretentiousness. My mother would have called him un enfermo de talento, sick with talent. I didn't always agree with the people she accused of suffering this creative malady (Godard was another one, and she was half right) but in the case of Noe, I think it nails him. Still, I streamed the movie on Netflix, curious about the much touted visuals and the kinkiness.
I loved the amazing opening credits, the trippy digital sequences and the color cinematography by Benoit Debie is absolutely awesome, but that is about it. I could watch those beautiful digital designs many times over, and in fact I wished there had been more of that in the movie, as opposed to the creaky, cheesy plot.
Enter the Void would have been a much better movie had it been a short film. And by short I mean 15 minutes long. Technically it has much to recommend it.  I loved the sound design and the way the movie looks. It is a worthy experiment on total point of view camera. It made me want to go to Tokio. But I also found it pretentious and annoying.
Spoiler alert that won't really spoil anything:
The plot is really cheesy teenage philosophy, set in the story of the vaguely incestuous relationship of a young man and his sister who are traumatized by the death of their parents in a car accident at an early age. For no comprehensible reason, the orphans are cruelly separated and put in different foster homes. The brother ends up supposedly DJing in Tokio, selling and using drugs to bring his sister over, and once she arrives she finds nothing better to do professionally than to prostitute herself. English lessons, anyone? Not. What can I tell you, Noe is a kinky guy. Little House on the Prairie, this ain't.
Paz de La Huerta, as the sister, is insufferable, ugly and a bad actress to boot. The kid who plays the lead does not seem to be a professional actor and he has no personality, but he doesn't really need one since we barely get to see him (his is the camera's pov). The first half hour of the movie is pretty gripping, not because of the plot but because of the strange world that Noe and his creative collaborators have devised. The rest is slow as molasses, not very coherent, terribly self-indulgent, gratuitously porny and obsessed with the female breast.
Note to pretentious European filmmakers: let's declare a moratorium on the male fixation on the female breast as a source both of milk and hard-ons*. Somehow Bertolucci halfway gets away with it, and even in him it seems puerile. Get over it already. Freud is fast becoming passé.
To be honest, I slept through about an hour of the movie. When I woke up I asked whether I missed anything and was told nothing much. Because Enter The Void is mostly interesting in terms of style rather than substance (and please do not tell me that you take seriously its half-baked ideas about sex and death and love) one starts to pay too much attention to the stylistic workings, since there is no one to really care about on screen. Thus:
If you shuffle off your mortal coil, why do you look at yourself from the back all the time?  This relentless framing with the back of the head of the main character in the foreground reminded me of a terrible director of commercials I know who likes to shoot the backs of the heads of people front and center, for no discernible reason. Here there is a reason, but the head still gets in the way.
If you die and hover observing those you love, why do you mostly hover from above? If death is really a voyeur, then there is much fun to be had. Wouldn't it be cool to fly around a little bit, and not only get closer when your sister is fucking guys? If I had that freedom, I would stick around for a little while, and then fly to Hong Kong to watch people eat dim sum, or go to Kyoto for the day. Then of course, I'd come back to try to mollify my loved ones, distraught at the tragedy of my loss. There is something touching and powerful about imagining a life after death where the dead are present but unable to reach us. However, it gets lost in the midst of much, not very germane prurience. I'm not a prude but I like sex in movies to have some other reason than the director gets off on it. So sue me.

*In contrast, American male filmmakers don't even acknowledge the existence of the female breast unless it's been implanted with bags of silicone and the nipples are safely hidden behind indestructible bra fabric. You can't win.

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