Sunday, November 28, 2010

Enter the Void doesn't fully deliver

Go with the gut. My gut feeling was I would be disappointed. My stomach didn’t let me down as I was hungry for another magnificent Gaspar Noé film and didn’t get it. Nonetheless  in certain ways Enter the Void, Noé’s latest, is brilliant. First off, the opening credits, This rapid pulsating strobe light show could be played off the wall at any dance club. Second, the camera work and special effects. No doubt about it this film is pretty dazzling, a kaleidoscope of manic colour shot in the dreamlike neon of contemporary Tokyo. And it takes film to places it previously has not been – overhead angled shots, floating and speeding scenes that glide the viewer above rooftops and streets of the dense and maze-like city. But the story, which lasts roughly two-and-a-half hours, is very simple. And that’s part of the movie’s problem. Oscar (Nathaniel Brown in his first major movie role) is a young American drug dealer. He finally makes enough cash that he can afford to fly his sister from the US to join him. The two are exceptionally close having made a blood pact when kids never to leave one another, which ends up occurring anyway after their parents are killed. She (Linda played exceptionally by Paz de la Huerta, Boardwalk Empire) soon finds work as an exotic dancer. In one of the early scenes Oscar and his drug-dealing pal Alex (Cyril Roy) wander to a club called, appropriately, The Void, where Oscar is to make a drug deal. The club is raided. Oscar locks himself in the bathroom flushing  drugs down the toilet. He tells police he has a gun. They shoot him through the bathroom door. He falls to the floor and dies. For the next two or so hours the movie is about Oscar post-mortem as his spirit is released from his body but his consciousness lives in a supernatural form as it swoops or hovers above Tokyo rooftops or inside buildings. He visits and revisits those once important to him – people like Linda and Alex – as well as returning to the scene of the crime as he watches police finish their investigation, put his body in an ambulance, and his later identification at the morgue. There are flashbacks to his earlier life. These are some of the film’s more interesting scenes. We see him and his sister being coddled as babies and joyfully loved as children by their middle class Manhattan parents. There’s a cherished scene at the beach followed by a horrific car crash – witnessed from the kids in the car’s back seat – that instantly kills their parents. That scene, repeated a number of times throughout the film, is jarringly, sickeningly authentic. So, even in the afterlife, Oscar never “leaves” his sister, true to their earlier pact. But Linda, of course, doesn’t know this. Oscar’s spirit has no way of communicating with her, which seems a flaw in the story’s premise. The film, even during when Oscar is alive, is shot from his perspective, as we literally look out through his eyes. Post-mortem that’s also the case. Oscar’s disembodied spirit’s view is ours as it hovers above people or moves through walls or indeed zooms through objects, usually bright lights or hole-like cavities. While sometimes dazzling, the movie is repetitive, even boring at times. And there is no real developing plot. Two-thirds of the film is either Oscar revisiting people who he had dealings with – and how his death plays out in their lives, usually miserably - or flashbacks to his childhood. The “Void,” of course, is death. And his death is exactly like a book he had been reading, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, said it would be. Besides the film’s monotony and weak plot there are some clichéd "hey-man-what-a-cool-acid-trip" scenes. Nevertheless you have to applaud Noé’s exceptionally ambitious cinematography and his efforts, once again, to take film to a new level, as he did with comparatively standard efforts like Irreversible (2002) and I Stand Alone (1998). Even if you see Enter the Void once (you probably won’t want to see it a second time!) if you’re interested in the outer boundaries of filmmaking today, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Montreal festivals continue: They don’t call Montreal festival city for nothing. The Brazilian film festival is currently on. It’s in its fourth year and features 10 films......And from Dec. 10-23, 17 Charlie Chaplin movies in restored prints from Janus Films will be screened including less well known ones like The Idle Class and A King in New York. Alas, I will be back in Windsor by that time.

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