Even with the expansion and omnipresence of DVD rental services and online viewing options, I'm one of those people who believes that movies deserve to be seen on the big screen, whether they're Lord of the Rings-style epics or intimate family dramas. Not that I'm not happy about services like Netflix that give me access to movies that I missed in theaters, but at the end of the day, I'll take a theater full of potentially obnoxious people over my laptop any day. And one movie that I wish I could have seen on the big screen is Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void. Even though the director's intentions generally come through, I can't help but feel that I partially missed out on the cinema-as-visceral-experience angle that Noe was going for. That, and I also might have missed some of the problems that I had with the film.
Set primarily in Tokyo, Noe's latest tells the story of Oscar, an American student living (working?) abroad, along with his sister Linda (Boardwalk Empire's Paz de la Huerta). While dropping off some cocaine for his friend on the way to meet Linda, police raid the bar Oscar is visiting. In the midst of the struggle, Oscar is shot. After literally going towards the light, Oscar sees himself dead on the floor. From then on, the film is a series of present glimpses and flashbacks of Oscar and Linda's lives. While flashback sequences are (usually) shot in a standard fashion, everything else is done in first person, even when Oscar is alive.
This brings us to the star of the film, Benoit Debie's cinematography. Noe's intent with the film was to capture the sensation of an acid trip, and even on my laptop screen, I can tell you that he generally succeeds. From the epilepsy-inducing credits to the high-flying, gliding camera work, it's a brilliantly shot film from beginning to end, and it benefits from how Debie captures the neon glow of Tokyo's club district.
You've been warned:
Unfortunately, not everything else is up to par with Debie's considerable accomplishments. The acting ranges from bland to flat out bad (de la Huerta's performance is particularly, er, unfortunate). And, like previous Noe films, Void has a tendency to linger and even plod. The man certainly has talent and vision, but he's in dire need of an editor who is willing to make big cuts. The flashback scenes do little to convincingly flesh out the characters, despite the interesting material because Noe only skims the surface. The film is supposed to be about how Oscar watches over Linda in death, but because we're given such flimsy material to work with, there's little between the two to care about, despite the tragedy that defined their childhoods. This causes the film to only be intermittently mesmerizing and trippy, which can make the 2 hr 20 min run time a little anxiety-inducing at times. And of course, no Noe movie would be complete without graphic sex, although this time it's shot from overhead and is at the end of the film (as opposed to Irreversible, which starts with 20 minutes of sex scenes).
Still, in spite of its mix of shallowness and indulgence, it's hard to deny that Noe has a unique vision of sorts. It's just a shame that here he gets so caught up in taking the audience on a cinematic acid trip that he forgets to fill out his characters and get good work out of his cast. In the end, Enter the Void suffers from some of the same problems as I am Love: it wants to give the audience an "experience," but in doing so forgets to add more substance (and quality) to its style.