Posts Tagged ‘Gaspar Noé’

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Things I’ve Learned: Gaspar Noe

9

 

Revised: 9.8.14

Few movies make such an impact and burrow into your brain so deeply as Christopher Nolan’s first real movie with a budget, Memento.  This tale of amnesia introduced Guy Pearce to America, and he is phenomenal as a brain damaged guy who can’t form new memories, but who must find and kill his wife’s killer in the name of vengeance.

This movie made me a Nolan fan.  His next project ripped off a very good Norwegian film that already worked perfectly fine without American studio exploitation.  I took a step back and started questioning Nolan right then and there.

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But Memento stands apart as an original twisted cinematic ride that is visceral and probably Nolan’s best film, although The Prestige may be up there in the running.

 

But back to Memento which brings Joe Pantoliano back to the screen, whom I hadn’t seen much of since Guido the Killer Pimp.  Come to think of it, he’s also in The Matrix.  These two, Pantoliano and Pearce, try and piece together how the hell Pearce has gotten here and why.  But Pearce has covered himself with tattoos to establish the facts of his existence. When he thinks certain of something he draws it into his skin, so that when he inevitably forgets everything he can quickly return to his quest.

Nolan’s got something, and it really operates on a different level than most people.

The style is much like a noir, a flashbacked mind bent noir with big questions at the heart of the quest.  It is, after all, about a blinding drive for vengeance.  The act of vengeance is brought to life in a way that nobody had ever seen before.

Memento is cited by many as a film to put on a list of mind bending titles (my own list). I hope you youngsters are keeping track of these gems … oh wait, Transformers 12 is coming!

 

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The Argentine/French auteur has attempted to push the envelope in terms of camera movement and perhaps even in shock value. Enter the Void (2010) is a mind bending journey unlike other films in several regards.

Noé’s previous film Irreversible (2003) was similarly shocking and stylistically aggressive in the extreme. That tale is told backwards in sequence. The backwards narrative, while confusing, is also naturally filled with mystery and urgency making it a tense thriller and hard to look away.

Some audience members walked out of Irreversible early in response to the extremely violent rape and the sadomasochism that transpires inside a gay nightclub. Noé also employed strobing flashes that can induce seizures and that assault the viewer’s eyes deliberately.

“My aim was to make you feel out of your minds,” said Noé in an interview concerning negative audience response to Irreversible.

By far the most striking element of Gaspar Noé’s style would be the floating, swooping, swooning camera that buzzes around on a crane for extended periods of screen time. Without regard to the framing of the actors, Noé’s camera flies melodically about the room, as in the opening shot of Irreversible, or throughout a city as in the bulk of the film Enter the Void.

This floating, flying camera seems to be Noé’s signature move, and a phenomenon he explored and pushed right past the breaking point in Enter the Void. Here the flying camera represents a spirit inside “the void,” searching lackadaisically for something as it travels from scene to scene slowly piecing information together in the otherworld.

Enter the Void
opens with a stroboscopic psychedelic title sequence that attempts to induce the feeling of being under the influence of a hard drug, as the main character is also on. Tarantino called this title sequence, “Maybe best credit scene of the decade. One of the greatest in cinema history.”

As the film opens in a Japanese hotel room, we find that the entire world, every shot is the point of view of a young western man, who happens to be a local drug dealer there. This strict and formal forcing of the camera to show his first person experience takes some getting used to as everything unfolds in real time. The film continues this strict formalism even as the boy is shot to death in a bathroom stall by anti narcotics officers. His spirit then floats away from his body and into “the void” where it hovers just above the city for the remainder of the film, jumping from scene to scene as he attempts to belatedly understand his place in the universe.

The only time Noé breaks this POV rule is during a flashback sequence of the boy’s childhood, where an automobile accident killed he and his sister’s two parents.

Much of the film revolves around his surviving sister, who is a strip dancer in a sleazy local club. Actually, a bit too much of the film revolves around this relationship, as the POV is taken to new absurd heights in the skirting of the issue of incest. The camera/boy’s POV actually goes all the way on its journey to be reborn, apparently as his own nephew, and the obvious biological processes that would entail.

The reincarnation plot apparently derives from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is referenced at the beginning of the film. The plot then shows a literal version of a spirit that is ejected from one body and then finds a new opportunity to be reborn on earth.

This is a fitting usage of the flying / floating camera technique and a brilliant move by the director. But, the narrative comes to a crashing halt just after the boy is killed, near the beginning of the movie. At that point there is no obvious plot for viewers to latch onto or understand. He is simply dead and floating around — for what purpose? Because Noé doesn’t clue in the viewer as to what is eventually going to happen, a gaping disconnect renders the middle of the film rather meaningless and frankly boring. It appears as an extended series of floating camera sequences to no end. Only much later is the sister/reincarnation goal brought into the story. The effect is to overuse the flying camera in the service of trivial or side issues, and to avoid the main throughline of the story for far too much screen time.

Noé has been quite unsuccessful financially with his efforts. If BoxOfficeMojo is to be believed, both films performed poorly, and Enter the Void may have lost a huge amount of its budget. Noé may have assaulted his potential audience a little too brutally. That website omits DVD and other rental tallies, which are hard to locate. Perhaps Noé and his style will be vindicated by the “long tail” of on-demand streaming over the coming years.

His imdb page lists no upcoming new feature at present.”

PS

* Noe’s newest project: