From transgression to transmigration? The career of Franco-Argentine film-maker has become synonymous with pushing the limits in terms of subject matter and technical experimentation. Noe’s impact on cinematic discourse and his position as a polarizing catalyst within the medium is remarkable and he is one of the few modern directors whose work elicits such extreme, conflicting reactions. He is often simultaneously admired for his formal daring and reviled for his need to wallow in the darker recesses of human existence.
Reviewing Noe’s 2002 film Irreversible, esteemed American critic Roger Ebert opening paragraph is tantamount to a warning describing it as “a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable..” and yet praises the film for its serious purpose and reverse narrative technique. This typifies the sharp ambivalence directed towards Noe’s work which is both punishing and beautiful. He dares us to hate and despise the ugliness and horror within while seducing us with stunning imagery and thrillingly visceral.
With Enter The Void, Noe takes his main Kubrick influence, namely 2001: A Space Odyssey, combines them with his own formative drug experiences and creates what he calls a “psychedelic melodrama”, the story of a young American drug dealer named Oscar living in Tokyo shot dead by the local police. The remainder of the film is Oscar’s out-of-body experience as he floats through city streets, rooms, observing events and reliving past memories.
This experience , shot entirely from Oscar’s point of view with Noe combining elaborate crane and handheld camera shots along with in camera special effects, model work, post production work. What results is an overwhelming visual and aural experience that resembles a free-floating dream or trip from which that is immersive, hypnotic and oppressive; a jaw dropping, headlong dive into cinematic experimentalism and self-indulgence that fascinates and repulses.
I found the experience harrowing, hypnotic and banal in equal measure, a draining sensory overload that is to be admired and applauded ( but maybe not best viewed late at night on Finnish television) for its entrancing fluidity that maybe would not have come to pass without the Steadicam innovators that came before Noe.
An evolution of film language, an illumination the realities and possibilities of human/corporal/spiritual existence, a shallow, mind numbing wallow in sleaze, depravity and visual overkill. Maybe all of this and more. Or less?