Love (2015)

Love (2015) movie poster

director Gaspar Noé
viewed: 11/11/2015 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, SF, CA

After watching Gaspar Noé’s amazing Enter the Void (2009) at home on DVD, I utterly kicked myself for having not gone to see it on the big screen.  I vowed that the next of his films I would most definitely go and see on the big screen.

This was tempered somewhat when I heard that his new film was to be a 3-D film featuring heavy doses of unsimulated sex.

Now, I’m not exactly a prude, but I can oddly enough lay claim to the fact that I had attended a 3-D porn film once in my life.  The opportunity arose and seemed like one of those rarities that don’t show up every day.  So, yes, in some ways, I’ve kind of been there and done that.

The film does indeed feature a lot of sex.  Somewhat like Noé’s Enter the Void, we are in the head of another character here.  In Enter the Void we saw entirely through the eyes of the character, even more than half the film after he is dead and a disembodied spirit.  Here, we don’t so much see through the eyes of Murphy (Karl Glusman) but we are in his head, listening to his thoughts as he has to recollect the ruinous relationship that was the love of his life with a girl named Electra (Aomi Muyock).  The story is told through ranging flashbacks, detailing the general lameness of Murphy and the way he totally blew everything.

This story isn’t nearly as head trippy nor interesting as Enter the Void.  And though Noé employs a distinct aesthetic, it’s nowhere as ambitious or bizarre.  At times it’s just annoying and/or boring.

It’s also oddly self-reflexive.  Murphy is a film student whose apartment is decorated with film paraphernalia galore and seems a stand-in in some ways for Noé.  But then Noé actually shows up in the film as the ex-lover of Electra, a sleazy art dealer.  And then Murphy ends up naming his baby Gaspar.  I guess all this seems to imply how much of Noé’s self is here.

Noé’s films are all usually very hard to watch, either repellent or just some amazing cinematic trauma, not the kind of things you want to go back and watch again, no matter how amazing they were in the moment.  In this way, Love is well in line.

But it was also the first of his films I actually don’t think I liked.  The first one that I wished was over before it was over (it’s 135 minutes long — and if you’re curious, that is a long time to sit through a 3-D film featuring graphic sex and unlikable characters).

I Stand Alone (1998)

I Stand Alone (1998) movie poster

director Gaspar Noé
viewed: 08/26/2015

Gaspar Noé has become one of the most interesting directors working today.  His 2002 film Irréversible was a harrowing tale of rape and revenge.  His 2009 film Enter the Void was a harrowing tale of death, drugs, and the beyond.  His upcoming film, Love (2015) is in 3-D and features hardcore pornographic images, though in the direction of art.  How harrowing that will be, I guess I will come to see.

Noé’s first feature film, from 1998, I Stand Alone, maybe it’s better if you don’t know really what all it entails.  It’s about an out of work horsemeat butcher, utterly embittered against the world, particularly women and the wealthy, and the image often seen accompanying the film (though not the one I chose here) features the middle-aged man with a gun pressed against his neck in a fierce stance of suicide.

I think the best way to see this one is to not know how it will end or what it entails.

What’s interesting here are a couple of things.  For one, I’d say this is clearly an earlier work, less polished, a bit more gimmicky.   Harrowing?  Sure, it is certainly harrowing on its own.

Most weird is Noé’s use of intertitles, including a 30-second countdown and warning at the pivotal point of the film that urges the squeamish to leave the room.  It’s a gesture Noé picked up directly from William Castle, and shows a playfulness that the film’s grim and ruthless outlook utterly belies.  He also uses claps of gunfire to punctuate scenes, with jumps in the image, zooming in on images, shaking things up throughout the duration.

I stand by my feeling that Noé is one of cinema’s most interesting and challenging, innovative and radical major feature filmmakers.  He’s not like anyone in particular.  The immediate directors who come to mind when trying to relate him, I would suggest Michael Haneke and David Lynch, though he’s not really anything like either of them.

I Stand Alone is perhaps the least of his three films so far.  But it’s very good, very unusual, and quite disturbing.

Enter the Void

Enter the Void (2009) movie poster

(2009) director Gaspar Noé
viewed: 02/01/11

Mind-altering drugs?  How about a mind-altering film?

Gaspar Noé’s psychedelic fever dream of a film, Enter the Void, is a harrowing 2 and a half hour death trip.  Shot entirely from the first person perspective (the camera’s view is through the eyes of a young American drug dealer) in Tokyo.  If the effect wasn’t disorienting enough, he takes drugs, trips out, and then gets shot to death.  When he dies, his spirit, the camera view, becomes a drifting omniscience, following his friend and his younger sister in the wake of his demise.

It’s really unlike anything I’ve seen.  Noé claims inspiration from a viewing Robert Montgomery’s 1947 film noir The Lady in the Lake, which Noé watched while tripping on acid.  The Lady in the Lake also employed this unusual first person camera approach.  I guess the LSD did the rest.

Enter the Void is something far more experiential than gimmicky.  It’s epic in its breadth, flitting back through the young man’s childhood and his relationship with his sister, the beautiful Paz de la Huerta.   Orphaned at a young age, he feels that he is her protector, but he’s a drug-taking drug dealer and she works as a stripper in the luminous neon Tokyo.  And then there is that weird incestuousness angle.

The film is amazing, really.  It’s a visual masterpiece, and the strange interior perspective, the disembodied semi-consciousness, the helplessness in death of detachment from the world, it’s a dark and often disturbing flight.  As much as the film takes inspiration from The Lady in the Lake, it also channels a spiritual psychedelia akin to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and I’ll bet my bottom dollar that this film finds its place among the cult films of the world, with college students and bong hits and lots of other additives enhancing an experience, perhaps steps further on from Noé’s with Montgomery’s noir film.

I regret not having seen this one on the big screen, but as intense as it was, I don’t know if I’m too keen to sit through it again.  It was an endurance test of sorts, as beautifully rendered and amazingly hallucinogenic as it was, it’s not really a pleasure trip.  But it’s a really wild, amazing film.  Heavy, trippy, epic.

Irréversible

(2002) dir. Gaspar Noé
viewed: 08/30/03

Brutal and harsh, dizzying and disorienting, Gaspar Noé’s film Irreversible is far from pleasurable. Notable for a vicious 10 minute plus rape scene centerpiece, this film would make even the non-squeamish squirm in discomfort.

The narrative of the film rolls out in reverse, a gimmick that could have some significance for the film’s commentary (some issues of fate are clumsily expressed late in the film), but doesn’t feel entirely necessary. The world of this film is bleak and harrowing, one in which worst-case scenarios have already played out. The film opens with the arrest of two characters that the audience does not know and then shows them entering a gay S & M club and brutally attacking and killing a patron. As the backward events unfold, it turns out that they are exacting revenge for the brutal, aforementioned rape.

The second half of the film, which I guess begins after (or before) the rape, seems almost anti-climactic. Perhaps that is the intention. As the audience is given the backstory to the characters that it has watched in traumatic action, there is a seeming lack of profundity to their lives. All of the horrors that befalls them, while potentially “fated”, are clearly otherwise seemingly random. Ultimately, there is something potentially existential being suggested, but I don’t know if the suggestion is made successfully. The brutality of the violence is the film’s signature more than anything, something without a solid context, but utterly palpable and affecting. My reaction to it is hard to quantify.

I did find the film either vaguely or explicitly homophobic. Not only is the gay S & M club shot as a dark and frightening place, but the patrons are sexually aroused and cheering for a harsh, pummeling murder like something clearly from a nightmare. Because they used a genuine gay S & M nightclub as the location for this sequence, there might be some sense that the filmmakers feel that their depiction has some basis in “reality,” but the image of the crowd in a sex-crazed bloodlust was nasty.