Enter the Void
French cinema houses some twisted individuals. Sure they produce lots of dialogue-driven dramas, but on the other end of the spectrum are people like Grandrieux (La Vie Nouvelle) and Noé (Irréversible) ripping all cinematic standards to shreds. They are loud, in your face and direct, granting their work an impact many directors could only dream about. Sit back and let yourself be swept away be Noé's latest epic masterpiece, a dazzling trip to the neon-lit streets of Tokyo.
Noé really took his time for this film. It's been 8 years since Irréversible and even though he did a few shorts for anthology projects in between (8, Destricted) his fans were longing for a new full-length feature. As a pretty big fan myself I've been trying to avoid most of the teasers and trailers to go in as fresh as possible. The poster art was reason enough to believe everything was going to turn out just fine. The only thing that worried me a little was the 160-minute run time, a serious gamble for a director who is known for his experimental approach to cinema.
The film is split into three main parts. The first part is filmed entirely from the POV of the main character. It consists of several long takes, following Oscar (our main guy) approaching his inevitable demise. From there on, the film switches to a series of flashbacks, mostly filmed from right behind Oscar's head and providing all the needed background story. The final part returns to Oscar, floating in limbo, zooming in and out of scenes after his death.
More than a change in camera motions, the three parts each have their own unique pacing. The first part is laid-back and chill, the second part is swift and stitched together from very short scenes, while the final part has a more spiraling, repeating structure. Much like Irréversible this might alienate a part of the audience expecting the same bang found at the start of the film the whole way through.
As for the visuals, this film is quite simply insane. From the constant neon-happy surroundings to the frequent strobes, the color palette alone is a complete visual assault. The camera work is quite possibly even more impressive. Noé forces his camera in the most improbable arcs and comes up with insane pathways, busting through houses and floating across streets to reach his next destination. A truly stunning tour de force that goes beyond mere visual trickery and really finds its way into the core experience of the film.
The soundtrack is equally powerful. Starting a film with LFO - Freak is always good for a few extra points (though not all that original - Hard Candy used that song before), but the meticulous sound design of Bangalter and his crew is a driving force behind the success of this film. Superb ambient sounds create a haunting yet beautiful flow on which the film spirals deeper and deeper, merging into a trip of its own.
Once again Noé asks a lot of his actors, though they never seem to reach the heights of Cassel and Bellucci. Still, they deliver more than enough to make the film work on a dramatic level. Their characters might not be the easiest ones to identify with and acting with a camera continuously fixed to the back of your head might not be the easiest way to make a character come to life, but by the end of the film the main characters feel familiar enough for the audience to have sufficiently bonded with them.
The main problem with Enter The Void is its third act. Some people will endure the repeating structure and will be taken to the next step of the trip, others will break down and will end the film in a somewhat numbed-down state of mind. It's the price you pay when making a lengthy film like this (think Bullet Ballet or Miike's Izo). Many people have suggested the film could've been a lot shorter and if you're purely interested in the facts of the background story then this is definitely the case.
All these scenes are crucial to the experience of the last act though and safe a few short bits I didn't feel as if anything could be cut from the film. I must say that Enter The Void seemed a lot longer than it actually lasted (I felt like I'd been watching for at least 4 hours) but since it was such a thoroughly immersive trip I didn't mind at all.
Overall the film is still quite downbeat, though it does lack a little of the fatalist and depressing atmosphere of Noé's earlier works. His style is still very much in your face and subtlety is not something high on his priority list, but the overall feeling is a lot more relaxed and it feels way more like a long-winding trip to a completely alien universe rather than a whiplash. That's not to say the film doesn't deal a fair few blows during its entire running time.
Add some very obvious 2001 references, lots of hooks for personal interpretation and a long list of impressive crew credits (Benoît Debie, Marc Caro, Thomas Bangalter, Lucile Hadzihalilovic) and you have all the ingredients for a landmark production. Whether you will fully appreciate Noé's film depends on your stamina and your ability to handle his extremely direct approach, but just on a cinematic level alone there is so much to enjoy here. For me, definitely the best film I've seen this year, a more immersive experience than Irréversible and already one of my favorite films ever. Recommended, just make sure your parents aren't around when watching it.