[Because Sundance is featuring films that have played at other festivals, and Enter The Void happens to be what I consider the best film on the circuit in 2009, here is my review, republished from when I caught it at TIFF. Is the film polarizing? Yes. But also very much worth seeing on as big a screen as possible.]
Enter The Void. The title can pretty much describe Gaspar Noe as a director. His previous films have been dark, wet places where bad things happen, things that stare back at you and darken up your soul for having watched them. Take the infamous Irreversible, which took the current biggest actors-in-their-prime in France (Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci) and had the former within the frame of one of the most graphic onscreen murders I have ever seen (a fire extinguisher to the head of a prone man) while the other was (in a different scene) was raped in long take for about nine single-take painful minutes. So yes, his 'audacious credentials' are well established and we are used to grimy, ugly and difficult to watch cinematography.
So colour me surprised to see him make a beautiful, gliding, movie that never puts off the viewer, but invites them along for the ride. As it stand this is my favourite film caught at the Toronto Film Festival, and perhaps my favourite of the year. It not only offers a unique view of Tokyo, but also tells one of those mega-sized ambitious stories that Stanly Kubrick chews on. Call it the fusion of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut served up as the biggest 'bread and circus' act of arthouse cinema I've ever witnessed.
You don't watch this movie, you experience it; playing the ultimate in cinematic voyeur, looking out of the main characters eyes, getting high in his apartment and then ambling out to do a drug deal. The POV camera is complete with 'blinking' (a very convenient, even elegant, way for Noe to hide his cuts. After all this would also be his version of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, a film made to look like a single unbroken cut. Except here the film is nearly 3 hours long and when our main character is shot, it is his 'spirit journey.' This is not an interpretation or even subtle, it is indicated specifically by the Tibetan book on the afterlife the central character is reading before he starts his drug-trip and subsequence shedding of his mortal coil. With the camera now 'attached' to the liberated ghost, it allows for not only strange and unusual places for the movie to go: inside of light sources, up through the sky into an airplane then back down into a taxi, or even into other peoples heads, but it also allows for a connect the dots narrative which illustrates the karma of how our 'guide' got offed in the first place. Ladies and gents, here is another facile (and incomplete) pitch-quote for the film: Rope meets Waking Life.
Some may say that Noe's stories are simple, even banal, exercises in narcissism; obvious A to B incidents hidden by extreme film-making technique and narrative trickery. I think simple stories (and Enter the Void is as fundamental and basic as they come when you boil it down) can be told with technique to offer an experience. Take the films of Quentin Tarantino or the Wachowski's The Matrix, nothing new storywise (plots are clichéd and familiar) yet the technique makes them so damn good.
You can think or not while watching the pulsating lights, the eerie CGI fractals, hyper-sexuality (enhanced as POV or gliding tableaux) or the busy beauty of Tokyo at night (both the city and a fluorescent to-scale model owned by a minor character that also gets its interiors explored to dazzling effect). But this film offers such a rich and bold visual experience (laser Pink Floyd can be officially retired at this point) that when I finally win the lottery, I am going to invest the millions of dollars into retrofitting Enter The Void into the first properly realized 3D film. If only resources and logistics would have allowed for Noe to make this film in 3D it would be the first one to use it as a narrative technique. As it stands, in glorious 2 dimensions, it is still the best film of the year.
As one who regularly goes to the movies, cinema is my drug, Noe's trip is one of the most pleasant in some time. It grabs at beauty, pain, boredom, intensity, relaxation, violence, death and finally rebirth. It equates the suckling of a cigarette to the suckling of a nipple, things are plunged into each other, not the least of which are the reflected light from the screen directly into your eyeballs.
I do not expect a film as wild and unconventional to see a wide release anytime soon, but it is one that will suffer immeasurably on DVD or even Bluray. It demands as big a screen possible and as little distraction as possible to take it in. Ride the roller coaster other people, Enter The Void is the experience offered by Ralph Fiennes in Strange Days. Noe is the Santa Claus of the subconscious. Until I can view this again, my money is riding on the 'lotto 649' in the meantime.