Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #446
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 22 May 2009 (Cannes), 5 May 2010 (France)
Sub-Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: France
Box Office: $754,249
Running Time: 161 minutes
Director: Gaspar Noé
Producers: Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval, Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Screenplay: Gaspar Noé
Cinematography: Benoît Debie
Score: Thomas Bangalter
Editing: Gaspar Noé, Marc Boucrot, Jérôme Pesnel
Studios: Fidélité Films, Wild Bunch
Distributor: Wild Bunch Distribution
Stars: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Ed Spear, Olly Alexander, Masato Tanno, Emily Alyn Lind, Jesse Kuhn, Nobu Imai, Sakiko Fukuhara, Janice Béliveau-Sicotte, Sara Stockbridge, Stuart Miller, Emi Takeuchi, Rumiko Kimishima
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 L.F.O. “Freak”
 Throbbing Gristle “Hamburger Lady (Carter Tutti Remix)”
Argentina-born French director Gasper Noé is no stranger to controversy. Anybody mindful of the notorious Irréversible will be only too familiar with his ability to impact an audience. The case in point is that, when it premiered at the 2002 Cannes film festival, three people fainted and a further 200 stormed out incensed, a fact boldly proclaimed on the sleeve of the French DVD release. This year he is at it again, with the explicit promotional campaign for his latest feature, Love, causing absolute pandemonium as he prepared to unveil it at Cannes. His 2009 head trip Enter The Void also debuted there but fared somewhat more favorably, earning itself acceptance from the crowd in the form of a fifteen minute standing ovation at the close. It is over a week since I had the exclusive experience of Noé’s most groundbreaking work to date but I still find myself feeling like breaking into rapturous applause on occasion even now.
Noé cites Robert Montgomery’s 1947 film Lady in the Lake as a great source of motivation, after watching it over fifteen years previous under the influence of narcotics and being left in awe of its use of subjective camera. In addition, he drew inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, and Jonas Åkerlund’s music video for The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up and it took until 2009 for him to realize his vision. Having spent 161 minutes with this “psychedelic melodrama” as Noé describes it, I can state with assurance that he has pulled off one of, if not, the most audacious feats in cinematic history. That is a bold claim to make but I’ve seen a lot of movies and have never been left with such contradicting feelings of refreshment and downright exhaustion, so excuse me if I suck his dick a little.
It is hard to know where to start with a film such as Enter The Void. To offer you a dash of perspective, I rewatched David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive the very next day then scribed its appraisal just to limber up. This movie is no easy sell and I say that knowing full well that it is currently teetering between scoring a lofty nine and nosebleed-inducing ten come time for the Crimson Quill to cast its judgement. I’m not even convinced that the outlandish accompanying visuals or audio stimulus will help, at least, not if you can keep your eyes off the stunning psychedelia long enough to read what I’m about to say.
You see, there are probably less than 20% of us who would be able to make it from Enter to The Void without one of the following occurring: Nausea, revulsion, severe motion sickness, boredom, utter discombobulation. For the record, that is how the film is bookmarked. Enter denotes the start of the mental erection and we spend the next two and a half hours hurtling towards The Void as it spreads for our climax. The cover art says as much; there are considerable phallic undertones which many could view as shocking for shock’s sake. However, sex and procreation offer the most natural and honest human exchanges feasible, and there is nothing perverse about that. For some, it will all prove a little too much once abortion and the Oedipus complex are thrown into the melting pot in unflinching detail but for those of us still remaining (which I calculate to be around 60% at this point) it remains game on.
Much of the dialogue is improvised and two of the main leads had never acted a lick before this and, to make shooting all the more precarious, Noé hardly understood a word of English (there goes another 20%). When it received its Cannes premiere, it was still unfinished and the editing process continued right up to the end of the year. By all accounts, this sounds like a travesty waiting to happen, but nothing could be farther than the truth as the end product is a triumph of Herculean proportions and the kind of “Eurotrash” to give most Hollywood executives aneurysms. On paper it sounds like a pretty conventional number; for the first sentence at least. An American drug-dealer named Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), shacked up in a Tokyo high rise with his stripper sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), is shot dead in a drug bust. Now are you ready for the second sentence?
The opening act gets right inside his head as he hits up on DMT (a potent hallucinogenic), charting both the kaleidoscopic highs and the cataclysmic lows as he heads towards his unanticipated fate. We journey beneath his eyelids as the psychotropic drug takes hold and only ever see his face a single time as he stands before a mirror with wildly dilating pupils and fully expanded mind. This portion of the film is viewed entirely from a subjective viewpoint and gives you a real sense of who Oscar is and what he feels and even thinks. Once we become comfortable paddling around in his cerebral fluid and have been introduced to his best friend Alex (Cyril Roy), we are ejected from our host and take the form of his relinquished soul.
Now this is where things get really interesting. You see, I love me a bit of soul. We’re not talking about heyday Motown or David Soul from Salem’s Lot, although he did admittedly do a stellar job as novelist Ben Mears. I’m speaking of the place I access each time I ready the Crimson Quill. It’s totally ambiguous and anyone considering pilfering said soul will find no floor plan I’m afraid. It just is. Our perspective shifts once more as we become airborne passengers, while it scrutinizes each repercussion and seeks its eventual resurrection. If we are in fear of becoming too comfortable going free range, then how’s about a little childhood trauma presented in third person flashbacks just to rein us back in?
It is revealed that Oscar and Linda share an almost telepathic bond and also that personal tragedy has played a large part in their wiring and subsequent life choices. They made an oath back then which overrides anything else in the cosmos; that being to always be together, despite the fact that they were separated soon after. Needless to say, Linda takes the news about her brother somewhat hard and this agonizing scene makes astounding use of selective focus as she commences her guttural release. She is lost without him and unaware that big brother is watching over her as her whole world capitulates before her, leaving her a stranger in a strange place. The performance from de la Huerta is simply staggering and it is easy to see why her popularity sky-rocketed in the following years as she gives absolutely all there is to give and then some more.
Enter The Void has been accused of being overlong and I can see why, of the 40% of us still present, around half of you may wish to plump for the shorter version. That leaves just us; diminished in numbers we may be but it must feel pretty good being referred to as “hardcore motherfuckers”. I’m pleased as punch that you stuck around as Noé has one final trick up his sleeve. Do you remember at the start when I began harping on about procreation? Well we’ve almost arrived at The Void now and that means it’s time to make some babies. After weaving above the fixtures and fittings and hovering over the city for nearly two hours, we are rewarded with a trip to the Love Hotel and a sensational, dare I say orgasmic, crescendo of hot sweaty fucking and more critically, tender lovemaking and continuation. One internal mid-coital shot and the culminating sperm pilgrimage is a thing of unparalleled beauty and only asks why we should feel provoked.
Enter The Void may well be the most polarizing piece of cinema ever to walk away with a perfect score from Keeper. That’s right; I’ve made up my mind. There could be no other conclusion having just spent the last hour pouring out my own soul over this dazzling masterpiece. Remember, before rushing to procure your copy, only one in five of you will ever make it to the Love Hotel and there can be no middle ground with a piece of expressionism such as this. It is provocative and thought-provoking in equal measures. As nauseating as it is euphoric. As upsetting as it is orgasmic. But I guarantee you one thing; you will never have experienced anything quite like it in your life. If I’m wrong then shoot me dead; thanks to Oscar I know exactly how to locate The Void.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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