At his Cannes press conference for Enter the Void, French (but Argentinian born) filmmaker Gaspard Noé was asked what he thought about violence in films. Noé quoted Douglas Sirk (as he supposedly told Fassbinder), "to make a good melodrama you need sperm, blood, and tears." Noé hasn't been the only "edgy" director to praise Sirk; Godard, Quentin Tarantino, John Waters, and Lars von Trier have all paid their respects to the master of "dramas with swollen emotions."But Gaspard Noé seems to be oblivious to the most important part of Sirk's legacy; his reputation as a supreme ironist. Enter the Void has sperm and blood in spades, but few tears because the story and emotions are much too obvious and trite.
We follow Oscar, an American drug dealer in Tokyo, first in PoV shots as he wanders through the streets, then from the back of his head as he uncovers past memories. Eventually, the camera just starts floating all over Tokyo. The story is rooted in the ideas of the "Tibetan Book of the Dead" which, according to the film, says that people's spirits wander the earth after death, floating through time and space before becoming reincarnated. But it's clear that Noe doesn't care much about budhism or new age philosophy; he's not trying to mess with our brains like Jodorowsky did in Holy Mountain. The characters mention the book a few times to make sure the audience knows what is happening, but sentimentality is what takes center stage here. We're supposed to care about Oscar and his sister as they say things like this; "Do you promise that we'll never leave each other?" "Never, ever?" "Never, ever." Also, Freudian implications abound. Gaspard Noe definitely has a thing for his mother's nipples.
But if Enter the Void fails as melodrama, it wins as pure cinema. It's simply the most incredible thing I've seen all year, and offers the visual breakthrough that Avatar--with it's giant blue elves and fantasy video game aesthetics--failed to. The film starts with a DMT trip, as waves of bright fractal-like organisms ebb and flow, and things just get crazier from there. The initial point of view shot is about 20 minutes of un-interupted steady cam maneuvering through the streets of Tokyo, but we're definitely in a heightened reality; everything seems more dangerous and disorienting, and there's a lot more neon. And I'll take back what I said about the film being incapable of provoking tears; my brother said that all the bright flashing lights made him cry. Some of the trippiness comes in the form of 2001/stargate inspired sequences, but the continually oscillating lights and the soundtrack that feels like a warm sonic bath make the entire film feel like a drugged up and transformative experience. It's enough to either drive you insane or force you into submission as you watch in rapt amazement.
So while I could have sighed in annoyance as Noé kept repeating the scene where Oscar sees his sister dragged away to an orphanage, I just decided to go with it. I really only have one word for this film: waaaaaaoooooh.