Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Noe’s Enter the Void

What do you get when you mix together generous helpings of designer drugs, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an iconoclastic director, and a bunch more drugs? Gaspar Noé’s latest film: Enter the Void (trailer here). Shot in Tokyo by the Argentine-born French director, using a largely American cast, Void is a self-consciously cult film, sure to inspire love and hate in equal measure when it opens this Friday in New York.

Oscar is dying, but Noé is just getting starting. Hooked on DMT, a hallucinogenic that simulates the chemicals released in the brain at the time of death, the expat has become fatally submerged in Tokyo’s drug scene. Tragically, it appears he will be leaving behind his sister Linda. Though they only recently reunited after years of separation in foster-care, they share a deep emotional bond (not incestuous, but seriously codependent).

Indeed, Oscar’s promise to never leave Linda seems to tether his spirit to the terrestrial world, allowing him to watch the aftermath of his death from a God’s eye perspective. We also experience flashbacks to earlier psychological traumas, including the car accident which orphaned the siblings, as part of his psychedelic death rattle.

Void is a trippy brew, explicitly invoking Tibetan Buddhist precepts, when we see Oscar receive a copy of The Book of the Dead from his New Agey stoner buddy Alex. However, the hedonistic scenes at The Void, the techno-hipster strip club his sister performs at, have little affinity with Tibetan asceticism.

On a technical level, Void is bravura filmmaking, completely unlike any previous “head” film. Visual effects director Pierre Buffin’s work dazzles to the point of overwhelming audiences with imagery overload, while Noé and cinematographer Benoit Debie make effective use of the Tokyo backdrop, conveying the seductive menace of the city’s red-light district. Unfortunately, Noé’s coeditors were far too indulgent, allowing the film to fall into a repetitive pattern. After a while, viewers will start looking for an open flame in each successive scene, knowing his camera will eventually swoop into it.

According to Noé, Nathaniel Brown was cast as Oscar because as a first-time actor with ambitions to direct, it was hoped he would easily accept his lack of proper screen time. Since we essentially view the film through Oscar’s POV, aside from oblique glimpses in mirrors, we only see his hands or feet. Yet, Brown is an identifiable presence throughout, which is a tricky accomplishment to pull off, given the circumstances. Paz de la Huerta, soon to be seen in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, is certainly a credible stripper, but her melodramatic angst gets tiresome. At least real life French expat Cyril Roy projects an intriguing vibe, giving viewers something to hold onto when he is on-screen.

Boldly ambitious, Void would deserve cult classic status had it been maybe an hour shorter. Instead, it keeps revisiting the same territory, wearing down the goodwill of all but the most adventurous of audiences. The work of a genuine auteur in need of a stronger editorial hand, Void opens this Friday (9/24) in New York at the IFC Center.