Cambridge 2010 Review: ENTER THE VOID; Intense, visceral and edgy assualt on the senses

rating: 3.5

It is difficult to avoid talking in cliché when describing Gaspar Noé's latest film, Enter the Void. It is an experience, an assault on the senses. It is intense, visceral and edgy. Indeed many of the same things could be (and have been) said of Noé's last film, the controversial Irreversible. And Enter the Void is no less confrontational than that last work: one of the film's final shots is almost taylor-made to provoke an angry reaction from the audience. But Enter the Void is a bold and striking departure from that previous film in terms of design. Probably in no small part down to of the involvement of (former Jeunet collaborator) Marc Caro, employed here as the art supervisor. His artfully grimy aesthetic is all over this project, which turns the nightlife of Tokyo into something incredibly seedy. It is a city of relentless sex, violence and drug abuse €“ not to mention a slightly heavy-handed police force. This is all backed up by a sensory overload of sound and colour. Enter the Void is an epileptic's nightmare, best exemplified by the film's garish, neon, flashing opening titles (among the most eye-catching opening titles ever concieved). It is a visual style that continues into the film itself, in the city lights of the metropolis, but also in recurring and lengthy shots which present nothing more than a bright, flashing series of colours. It is disorienting, and it means to be. The film is shown entirely from the perspective of a young man amidst a huge drug taking binge, and we see the world as he is seeing it. The whole thing takes place in first person, with even the third person stuff we see coming from the characters perspective €“ shown to us via an out of body experience. This is presented in a way which will no doubt read as tedious, but in practice makes for something really immersive. Noé fades to black to account for his protagonist's blinks and tilts the camera with the slighest movement of his head (shown to the best effect in a shot which directly looks into a mirror). The result is something really naturalistic. One long, continuous take allows us to follow an entire, real-time drunken conversation as two men walk through the city streets. The sound design is equally naturalistic and immersive as we hear things as we would indeed hear them in life €“ albeit in a drug-induced state. Our protagonist's speech is slighly muffled (it sounds like when you talk with your fingers in your ears), whilst ambient sounds are all heard at a natural volume in relation to the character. Never in a film have I felt such an impressive sense of space, and events which we see repeated in first person and, later, in (out of body) third person, always display an amazing effort taken to provide continuity. Fitting for a film which spends a good deal of its considerable length adopting a bird's eye view, roaming ceaslessly around a cross-section of rooms. This is all slightly soured, however, by the film's last half hour, which pushes at the boundaries of your patience as we float around a hotel, observing various sex acts, cut together with scenes of birth and death. The trite symbolism, combined with the relentless nature of this closing chapter, is really tiresome. It feels as though it doesn't know quite when to end (I am thankful that the cut I saw was shorter than the one played in Cannes earlier this year). In the endwe have a marvelous, and experimental first hour, followed by an hour of steadily decreasing appreciation, followed by almost another half hour of crushing boredom. Which is a shame, because when Enter the Void is good: it is really, really good. Whatever my misgivings about the length of the film, and its ponderous and (I think knowingly) endurance-testing conclusion, I would still strongly recommend the viewing experience. Although I'm not sure why you'd ever go back for seconds. Enter The Void is released in the U.K. on Friday 24th September.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.