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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 10.16.09] France movie review drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Gaspar Noé
Writers: Gaspar Noé
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 10 out of 10

[Editor's Note: So begins our coverage of the 2009 London Film Festivial. This is our second review of Enter The Void. The first was from our coverage of TIFF.]

Described by director Gaspar Noé in his introduction at the London Film Festival as "Long, and painful to the eyes", Enter the Void is a difficult film that few people will want to watch twice, and many will find exasperating, annoying or even dull. But alienating audiences is inevitable when embarking on such an unusual project, one that is original in execution and brave in intent. Throughout its two hour and thirty minute running time Enter the Void's twisted brilliance more than makes up for an at times grueling viewing experience.

Beginning with a CGI representation of the hallucinations brought on by smoking DMT and progressing rapidly to the killing of the central character, we are quickly introduced to Enter the Void's central themes: death and the afterlife, explored through the filter of psychedelic drugs and the teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. You'd be forgiven for sighing at the tiresomeness of this sort of subject matter, which has been tackled badly in the past. The metaphysical doesn't lend itself well to traditional cinematic narrative and style, often leading to preachy dialogue to get across ideas that have only ever really been successfully expressed on the page. This is sidestepped neatly by Noé in the skilled application of unusual technique.

A first person point-of-view is employed throughout the film, giving it a subjectivity that frees up a rambling, delirious narrative that shows - in the form of juxtaposition, repetition, hallucinatory visuals and sound - rather than tells. The point of view is that of Oscar, who dies in the opening scenes and goes on to drift above and around his friends - fellow Western ex pats who deal drugs and work in lap dancing clubs in Tokyo - exploring their past, as well as a present lived in the shadow of his violent death. Imbetween these stretches of narrative Oscar's own past is relived in flashbacks, the most traumatic events of his life repeatedly visited in often shocking and uncomfortable scenes, through which we unravel Oscar's complicated relationship with his sister and the forces that made him who he was.

An emotional depth and attention to characters, however seemingly inconsequential to the overarching subject matter of the film, goes a long way to pull Enter the Void back from the stoner's mess it could have been. Oscar's life was confused, difficult, and unhappy, despite the sheen of sexy, druggy cool he projected. Those around him, from likable psychonaut Alex to unlikeable heavy Mario, have a very human vagueness of intent about them, unsure of their place in the world and the roles they have carved for themselves. Paz de la Huerta makes a sub-par job of Oscar's well-drawn sister Linda, reverting to the slow-motion slurred-voice school of trippy film acting, but this is practically unnoticeable in an interweaving, fascinating and above all believable unraveling of Oscar's life.

The first person point of view switches between overhead drifting and more straightforward face to face encounters, but also strays into hallucinogenic territory. The DMT trip of the opening scene provides a template for sequences that include strobe effects and blinding journeys into light. While never straying into banal pop video territory and providing a visual discomfort necessary for the film, for sheer disorientation these sequences never match some of Enter the Void's more grounded scenes. The neon streets of Tokyo, chaotic and minutely detailed, filmed mostly at night and always from a rollercoaster perspective, are awe-inspiring. A nightclub ecstasy scene is so powerful you almost feel like you're coming up yourself, and an obsession with sex that runs throughout is similarly visceral, never feeling extraneous or exploitative - though its use is frequent and graphic, sex's narcotic power is employed brilliantly and its relevance in a filmobsessed with questions of life and death is ever-present.

While the disorientating and uncomfortable nature of the scenes is compounded by Enter the Void's long running time, the main problem frankly is one of boredom. At times the goodwill you feel towards Noé in tackling such difficult themes so well is tried by the unhurried way he goes about it. There are niggling doubts about the subject matter as well: Noé explained in his introduction that people who haven't tried drugs will probably dislike the film, which is most likely the case - it explores an unscientific, druggy spirituality that goes against present day intellectual atheist consensus. But there is an intangible, fleeting experience of somewhere else that comes with psychedelic drug use, explored in the journals of Anne and Alexander Shulgin and the fiction of Philip K Dick, that deserves some scrutiny no matter what your own opinions may be. It is such a minefield of a subject though it is unsurprising Enter the Void misfires at times, bringingyou back down to earth with a bump of cynicism.

The overall feeling though is one of awe. The difficult themes demand a new way of film making, which Noé has embarked on with not only bravery and imagination but structural and technical expertise. His characters shine through the hallucinogenic confusion, providing an emotional grounding that gives the film much of its power. The sleaziness of the world these characters inhabit sits in the pit of your stomach as you are pulled into their story, while the sensory overload of the imagery and sound overpowers you. It's a difficult, at times unpleasant experience but one that blindsides you with its originality, important in an age when you could be forgiven for thinking cinema had no surprises left to give.

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Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

i was there too. i described it shortly after "as THE most amazing cinematic experience my eyes were ever fortunate enough to witness".

my much more detailed review comming soon.


Adrian (11 years ago) Reply

Interesting review - and very similar in content to my own! We clearly took much the same things away from it.


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

I've heard amazing things about DMT (mostly via books of Terence McKenna) but never was able to figure out how to get any ...


Ben Austwick (11 years ago) Reply

Well, it's synthesised from Salvia, which is legal in the UK and some US states...


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

DMT is NOT in any way related to Salvia. DMT exists in the human brain and in a wide variety of plants, like Mimosa hostilis and other. But absolutely not in Salvia.
Also DMT is illegal everywhere.
Get info. is a good site.


Eric VT (10 years ago) Reply

I got to smoke DMT 2 times in my life ounce in a friends dorm room at Albany College and ounce at the Bethel festival in upstate NY. How I will explain it is this I don't know how many know what the peak feels like on LSD or Shrooms but its more intense then that with the visuals and trails being much much more intense. But only last for a very short period of time 10 to 15 mins. for me anyways some people trip longer from taking a few hits. but those 15 mins feel like 6 hours.


Anonymous (10 years ago) Reply

"Disorientating" is not a word.

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