Transcendence is subjective; results may vary. In Gaspar Noé’s three features (plus medium-length “Carne”), the Argentine-born French filmmaker traffics in shock, but I’d argue he’s reaching for a meaty, elemental view of the human condition: we’re not just human, not only animal, but flesh and blood, readily rent and torn. The raging butcher of horseflesh, a madman for sure, in his first two films, “Carne” and “I Stand Alone”, is tormented by voices, by his thoughts, what Noé has called the “radio in his head.” Him against the world, protecting a daughter, hating a wife. In “Irreversible,” a murder and a rape are markers in a chronologically backward narrative that ends-begins on sweetness and light and the hope of progeny (as well as the image of the Star Child from “2001: A Space Odyssey”). The need for children to be protected, shielded from the violence of adults, whether attaining womanhood, or unborn, yet-to-be-born, just conceived, is an insistent undercurrent. What lies beneath Noé’s sensorium of heightened perception in his visceral filmmaking is a ferocious sense of vulnerability, blood, sweat and fears, more blood, the human state as man as flesh but also the hope of some kind of transubstantiation; birth, regeneration, persistence of DNA. He doesn’t strive to be the caveman painting in the cave; he strains to capture the first shadows against the wall on the back of the brain. The daffy, woozy “Enter the Void,” like Noé’s other work, is a kaleidoscopically, pyrotechnically urgent mix of life, death and visual and sonic invention. His instincts splice Godard and Dostoevsky: piercing style and mortal dread. “Enter the Void” is seen from the perspective of its protagonist, a punk drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown) protecting his beloved sister (Paz de la Huerta), a stripper—even after his own murder—in a neon-day-glo nightscape, inside a pachinko-on-DMT Tokyo where the club scene seems to exist in dark interiors, in the streets, in the mind. He and his memories float above the city, and the distorted landscape fascinates: the camera builds a rhythm from unexpected explorations.The imagery blooms with gaudy, seedy beauty even when nudity or sleazy sex is wall-to-wall and the English-language dialogue turns to melodrama. The trip culminates in what is probably both apocalypse and reincarnation. 138m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.