Upon completing his studies, Gaspar Noé had the chance to shoot two black-and-white short films: “Tintarella di luna” in 1985 and “Pulp amère in 1987. The first simply tells the story of a woman who leaves her husband for her lover, while the second shows a man attempting to rape his wife, as he listened to the radio that rape can be an act of profound love: perhaps, it is in this exact moment that the poetics of this Argentine filmmaker was born.

In 1991 Noé shot a 40-minute film entitled Carne, produced with some friends and through his partnership with filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalilovic (La Bouche de Jean-Pierre [1995], L’Ecole [2003]). Carne tells the story of a horse butcher who wants to take revenge on a man he mistakenly believes to have raped his autistic daughter.

In Carne, where the shock effect is gradually built through the use of a martial soundtrack and the rapid and the film’s nervous editing, we can already see – starting from its credits (which, during an alternate montage full of dark humour, show the butcher chopping meat and the autistic girl watching Blood Fest by Herschel Gordon Lewis), all those theoretical and filmic features of Noé’s future style, which later found their apotheosis into the smug and provocative Irreversible (2002).

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Flashes of poetics’ excess – well conceived and examined –can be found in his first feature film Seul contre tous (1998). Until that moment, they had appeared jumbled together by a chaotic and provocative mise-en-scène, carried out by indecisive and awkwardly played works that aimed at an effective yet provisional sensationalism. On the contrary, in Irreversible, although we’re talking about provocative poetics, Noé did his best to put his theoretical apparatus into action: in his film performed by the couple Bellucci/Cassel, by wryly aping the Kidman/Cruise couple in Eyes Wide Shut (1999) by Kubrick, the filmmaker used the Rape & Revenge genre as architrave around which to lay the foundations for a warning against a society drift that bears inside class violence, racism and cerebral primitivism.

According to Noé, these elements – as a blasphemous trinity – are going to replace the Holy one, made up of love, brotherhood and solidarity. Thus, the meaning of the film isn’t in the film in itself, but lies in its heart-rending and painful shot that examines the irrevocable time smashing every act, every emotion to smithereens. Bodies are objects and acts are never accomplished in a film whose intent isn’t to capture spectators’ eyes, but to drive them away.

The same concept is – even more radically – pursued through the overwhelming film Enter the Void. Despite its appearances, it isn’t based on anything Buddhist at all, but privileges the form over its content. In it, s contradictory issue is unravelled on the use of artifices to reach an ecstatic pleasure state, as Noé confirms: “the structure of Enter the Void actually draws its inspiration from the one inside the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but we didn’t follow it to the letter. The events following one another represent the reconstruction of what Alex explains to Oscar, i.e., the journey stages of the departed soul before reincarnation.

At the end of the film, however, we discover that Oscar’s spirit actually floats on a small-scale model of Tokyo and thus, not on the real metropolis. It also can be seen that Alex comes out of his mother’s womb, so it has nothing to do with reincarnation. (…)  

So, strictly speaking, there isn’t an adaptation of the book, as many people believed, by mistakenly considering me a devout Buddhist. Through Enter the Void I tried to lead spectators to a hypnotic state, as if it deals with a dreamy journey. (…) Tokyo is a more appropriate metropolis for space-age films than Paris or New York. As in Hong Kong, there are a lot of huge skyscrapers in Tokyo, which allowed me to let my camera constantly flying above roofs. Moreover, Tokyo enabled an interesting representation of the drug phenomenon. There, one can’t joke about such a subject” – Laure Charcossey, Enter the Void – Interview with Gaspar Noé, nocturno.it*

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Life is like a spiral circling in space without interruption. Existence is like a circle where life and death touch each other. The indefiniteness of the visible is shown by means of stroboscopic devices. The last moments of a man’s life transcends the dream. This is a bulimic odyssey full of images, sounds, colours, harmonies, bodies and objects, driven asynchronously on purpose, and run through by epidermic overtaking, and by alienating and bold representation. The redundancy of plongée shots show the city from the top and make it appear like a huge flipper, where human lives are flung left, right and centre like scattered marbles.

Enter the Void is all the elements above and then some: it isn’t always consistent, sometimes it’s smug in a narcissistic way, at other times chaotic and boring (the endless night peregrinations of m.d.p. macchina da presa/movie camera), gratuitously provocative, like when it shows the aborted fetus, or when it stages the impossible point of view of orgasm, it’s haunting and monomaniacal in its never-ending length, yet so awfully charming that it becomes a visual experience that has little or nothing to do with cinema.

This happens because the provocations are left in the background thanks to a dazing, hypnotic and blunting form that – as a bad-trip – penetrates the viscera of the human mind and sails the “purple rivers” of body, by composing a lysergic and dystopic symphony of colour, and by turning earthly existence into an eternal interference between a (potentially endless) alternation of states of mind and existences “lived” (again) in parallel dimensions.

The subjective point of view, recognisable throughout the film, is a filmic representation of the flow of consciousness: that’s why the shot isn’t a typical subjective one, because the slight shift it realizes makes it a pseudo-subjective one. The protagonist’s look at reality, therefore, is disconnected from the of the spectator’s. This film does not deal with a subjective shot winking at the model (as Noé himself stated) of Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake (1947), but rather with a process within which spectators see more (but not necessarily better) than Oscar does.

Although we can find the use of blinking, added to image sequences in order to increase the link between spectator and character, the film never succeeds in making the narrative artifice plausible (no doubt, this is its biggest limit), because of the absence of a reverse shot (in the presence of a fake subjective shot) causing indefiniteness and alienation makes you feel awkward. What for everybody is a limit, paradoxically, for Noé is a norm, because, as it happens in the case of “Irreversible”, even in Enter the Void the filmmaker’s intent isn’t to capture spectators, but rather to destabilise them.

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It’s clear that those people who obstinately persist in defining Gaspar Noé‘s filmic style puerile and/or pointless, don’t really understand his theoretical background and don’t succeed in thinking beyond the appearances of his (undoubtedly imperfect and indecisive) films, maybe because they don’t have the sensitivity (i.e., to give up his role of reviewer/censor) to let themselves go to the fluctuation of the image and to the blurred flow of sounds and chromatism. They anchor themselves to the (always absent on purpose) narrative texture of his films instead.Gaspar Noé’s utopian and praiseworthy goal consists in drawing – using images – a grid whose coordinates are space and time, as it is shown at the beginning of Enter the Void, with its astonishing credits “shot” to the relentless rhythm of stroboscopic frames, on top of a pounding techno soundtrack.

His declared goal is to do storytelling abstraction, in order to abandon oneself to surreal and lysergic atmospheres and follow the psychotronic and psychotropic dynamics of the “Anémic Cinéma”. Enter the Void revisits Marcel Duchamp’s work (1926) at a theoretical and conceptual level. It consists of – in a Duchampian style–a series of revolving shots, constituted by spiral circular motions, but not by concentric ones; it aims at becoming the “Anémic Cinéma” archetype, void of every literal sense, but filled with form and colour.

Drug is the device enabling this process, and sex is the means for natural achievement (in contrast with the lysergic one) of a hyperbolic and suspended sensory state: trip and orgasm, according to Noé, are in fact the only real and earthly ways out for trying to live life after death. The filmmaker uses an almost nonstop alternation of long takes (some of them true, others [re]created with CGI/Computer-generated imagery), because he wants to keep and bind present, past and future existences of an inner circle of people together, whose behaviour is determined from time to time by what happened/was established in the past (everything is shown through a backwards path made of a dream into a dream, into another dream…)

“The Void” isn’t only the work’s title, it is the name of the club where Oscar is killed and the word that appears in “impact” font to replace “The End” writing at the closing of the film: the void is the earthly existence of a city/world, turned into a small-scale model. If the floating souls wandering above the roofs of Tokyo and inhabiting Noé’s sharp phantasmagoria belonged to flesh and blood humans who foolishly and pointlessly got themselves killed, this happens because their feelings are Oedipic-incestuous and their greatest ambition seems to be the pursuit of a fictitious and fake happiness.

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The three clubs appearing into the film: “The Void”, “Sex Money Power” and “Love Hotel”, symbolise the three paradigms (drug, money and sex) of a trinity replacing the religious one (this is a choice of the “divine and immanent” look of shooting). They are also three non-places, where the contemporary man’s escape from a life burdened with too many responsibilities and needs to be able to survive without taking drugs, takes shape.

Love Hotel, theatre of the long sharp and stroboscopic sequence stuffed full of Huxley-an and hard-core references, is a Chthonian place in which sex materialises in its highly imaginative shape, i.e., an infernal/celestial and space-age vision within which genitals throbs with colourful light, and orgiastic intercourse appears traversed by hallucinatory and psychedelic bursts of light.

This sequence, a spin-off of Protege-Moi hard music video made by Noé for the rock band Placebo in 2003, shows humans preoccupied with consuming a compulsive and aseptic sexuality, pornographic because it is deprived of every possible emotion; it represents the end of the journey before death and (re)birth. The “Love Hotel” comes immediately after the “Money-Go Go Club” and the “Void of Drug”: these three clubs simply symbolise the chain that imprisons men in the pain of existence.

It’s no accident that in the film there’s a continuous coming and going of past, present and future traumatic situations, alternated with rare moments of happiness and joy, because this is the representation of the ups and down of every person’s life, and also because in the visionary and magniloquent intent of such a piece of work like Enter the Void (with the benefit of hindsight, a sort of sharp version of Three Life), Is contained the research of the definitive point of view: Oscar becomes pure look (the divine one that is also truly and transcendentally subjective), only when he dies and his soul leaves his own body.

That’s the reason why then, he can experience a highly imaginative journey that in 165 minutes tries to turn cinema into a magnificent and hyperbolic celebration of life: from birth to death, by showing how life cycle never ends. According to Noé (nomen omen), end doesn’t exist, only the void does, it’s up to every spectator to decide what this is.

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Kirlian’s research for Gaspar Noé’s “Enter The Void”
by Thorsten Fleisch

Filmmaker Gaspar Noé commissioned me to do electrophotographies identical to those I used in my film “Energie!” for his film “Enter The Void”. He saw my film and was thinking about a similar effect for “Enter the Void”. He had already finished shooting his film and he was at the post-production phase. So, he invited me in his office in Paris to talk about his idea for some specific special effects he had in mind. There, he showed me some of his footage and explained to me that he was thinking about having a vibrant electric aura around the genitals in the last film scene, during which some protagonists are having sex in a Tokyo love hotel.

There was another macro-scene of a penis inside a vagina, during the moment of ejaculation. He was imaging this scene by using electricity too. He also asked me if it was possible to create high voltage letters for the film titles. After coming back to Berlin, I started working on a series of circles and straight lines electrophotographies, which later I sent to BUF(http://www.buf.fr/main.php), whose members had the task to create the film special effects.

Later, I did some experiments with the titles. Gaspar sent me the font he wanted to use, I cut the letters out on a piece of cardboard and then I wrapped an aluminium foil around them. After shooting 30,000 volts through them, I got letters “bursting” with electricity on photographic paper. After finishing his film, Gaspar decided to have a different effect for the aura ones. Now, it’s more a smoke-like effect and a less vibrant one.

According to me, Gaspar had thought that vibrant electricity could have been counterproductive, especially for the love hotel scene, where although there’s an excited atmosphere, the latter is calmer and not so much nervous. The titles created for his film on the contrary, were used for the long animation sequence of Tom Kan’s title, which opens the film and determines the mood of the piece of work in itself.