Love it or leave it - there is no other way to put the evident response to the latest challenge from Franco-Argentine director Gaspar Noé (Irréversible), a surreal son et lumière trip following (yes, you're reading right) the wanderings of the spirit of a newly-deceased smalltime drug dealer through the oneiric maze of his memories and experiences in a garish, neon-lit ersatz Tokyo. All of it shot in subjective camera, through the "eyes" of the dead man, in a floating, non-stop, constantly on the move "shakycam" ported over from Irréversible's initial oppressive reel and punctuated by (yes, you're still reading right) drug-fuelled hallucinations and graphic shock cuts that involve aborted foetuses and pumping penises.
There is, however, method to what appears be Mr. Noé's madness. Somewhere between 2001's Stargate sequence and a Ken Russell film, or Blade Runner seen through the eyes of Fernando Arrabal or Alejandro Jodorowsky, Enter the Void is a meditation on the circle of life whose trance-like visuaç thrill ride hides a serious look at the old adage "life is but a dream". We follow Oscar (Nathaniel Brown as an adult, Jesse Kuhn as a boy) through his trip back and forth in time to make sense (or not) of what his life was all about, and of how the choices he made have gotten him and his stripper sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta as an adult, Emily Alyn Lind as a girl) to this fate in Tokyo's seedier districts.
Yet it's clear that the film's extended running time (137 minutes in a "shorter" version that merely lops off a 17-minute film reel from the 154-minute "full length" cut) works against it; the dazzling visual tour de force of day-glo visuals and constantly moving camera threaten to tip the scales away from its search for meaning and towards a mere provocative novelty, reducing it to the status of a mere exercise in technique. But what technique, effortlessly combining actual live footage with digital enhancements and effects to create a bewilderingly hypnotic sensory experience. And Mr. Noé, having already proven he is a thoughtful, challenging filmmaker, insists in stretching the boundaries of what cinema can do, even if he trips over himself in that process. Regardless of whether you like it or not, there has never been something quite like Enter the Void, and that's a good thing, because even when it fails there is more guts and more love of cinema in this one-off than in most of what passes for film nowadays.
Paz de la Huerta, Nathaniel Brown, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander, Masato Tanno, Ed Spear, Emily Alyn Lind, Jesse Kuhn, Nobu Imai, Sakiko Fukuhara, Janice Sicotte-Beliveau, Sarah Stockbridge, Stuart Miller, Yemi.
Director, Gaspar Noé; screenplay, Mr. Noé, with Lucile Hadzihalilovic; cinematography (colour, processing by B-Mac and Imagica, widescreen), Benoît Debie; digital colorist, Yves le Pellet; production designers, Kikuo Ohta, Jean Carrière; costume designers, Tony Crosbie, Nicoletta Massone; editors, Mr. Noé, Marc Boucrot, Jérôme Pesnel; sound designer, Thomas Bangalter; visual effects art director, Pierre Buffin; visual effects supervisor, Geoffroy Niquet; producers, Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval, Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, Pierre Buffin, Susanne Marian, Peter Hermann (Wild Bunch, Fidélité Films, BUF Compagnie, Les Cinémas de la Zone in associate production with Essential Filmproduktion, BIM Distribuzione, Paranoid Films), France/Germany/Italy/Canada, 2010, 137 minutes.
Screened: distributor advance DVD screener, Lisbon, February 22nd 2012.