Monday, 23 May 2011

Enter the Void - the German Blu-Ray

At the end of Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, there's a glimpse of the poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had the famous tagline The Ultimate Trip. In Enter the Void, one of the characters declares death to be the ultimate trip, and that idea is essentially the essence of Noé's 3 year in-the-making psychedelic wonderland. The story concerns Oscar, a young American living in Tokyo, who sells drugs and shares a tight (perhaps incestuous) bond with his go-go dancing stripper sister. Oscar is summoned to the Void nightclub to deliver some tabs but the deal goes wrong and Oscar is shot by cops. Lying dead in a toilet, Oscar's consciousness separates from his lifeless body and floats upwards and onward, observing the events that led to his death and the lives of his sister and friends as the continue without him...

Much has been written about Enter the Void, some commentators even announced the film as nothing less than of a re-invention of Cinema. I don't agree, but the film is clearly a masterpiece of pure sensation cinema, with its drug-induced visions of galaxies of muli-colored nebulae, its depiction of Tokyo bathed in perpetual hallucinogenic neon and its dense sound design of overlapping dialogue and the soundtrack music, a veritable sonic sculpture of experimental electronica. The visual aesthetic is so fully integrated into the story that we see much of the events of the film through Oscar's eyes, (or sometimes from behind his head). Even when Oscar blinks his eyes, the image also subliminally flicks - it sounds gimmicky but Noé carries it off with considerable skill. 1. The framework of the story also allows Noé render the space and time limitless and the film includes flashbacks and memories, and memories within memories.


Besides the final section of the film which has some explicit sex, Enter the Void has little of the contentious imagery like the skull-crushing and the rape scene from Irreversible. Noé took inspiration for the story from the Tibetan Book of the Dead (which is not required reading before you see the film), and unlike the climax of the director's previous film where the catastrophic fates of the two lovers were irreversible, Enter the Void ends on an unexpectedly optimistic note. However you are duly warned about the swirling anchorless camerawork which caused fits of nausea at theatrical screenings, as Oscar's spirit glides across rooftops, swoops down on streets and melts through walls.


If there is a fault line running through the film, it's in the performances, which tend to be weak in spots. Also, the film in its full director's cut is a weighty 163mins, and the pacing is leisurely to say the least. Admittedly the film has almost no characters one can sympathize with and if you care little about young people taking excessive amounts of LSD, the film might leave you out in cold. So investigate with caution, but please do investigate and see where Noé's voyage au bout de la nuit takes you.


German label Capelight's Region B Blu-Ray is an excellent presentation, but must be stressed is hardly a demo disc. First up, the Blu-Ray is packaged in a nifty book style case (with a German text interview with Noé inside), and also contains 2 DVDs - the 1st DVD containing the 156min cut of the film and the 2nd DVD holding the extras.

The 2:35 image has a certain softness which is inherent in the original film, no doubt due to the heavy digital manipulation and extensive layering of computer generated textures. It actually works well as it takes the edge off the CGI making the visuals seem more organic. Soundwise, the Blu-Ray is a powerhouse, and the film is best played loud, with the dense soundtrack making for an incredible immersive experience. Audio is offered in two languages - German and English, each of which have optional removable German and English subtitles (worth nothing that there is almost no Japanese dialogue in the film, perhaps a throwaway line or two). Extras for the film are on the 3rd DVD within the set and include all the material from the US disc - deleted scenes, a piece deconstructing the special effects, some extended trippy visuals, and international trailers.


The German edition does however have two exclusive extras. The first, a 5 minute experimental stroboscopic film called ENERGIE! (created by Thorsten Fleisch, who does an optional German only commentary for this short piece). The second German only extra is the jewel in the set - a 52min film called Into the Night with Harmony Korine and Gaspar Noé (in English with optional German subs). Directed by Bruce La Bruce, the film is basically a day trip Gaspar Noe made with Harmony Korine around Korine's hometown of Nashville. In the film we see both directors visit a theatre showing Korine's weird 2009 VHS experiment Trash Humpers, fire some guns at a target range, explore the flotsam and jetsam of a junkyard, (which reminds Noé of Street Trash) as well as encounters with Korine's reassuringly oddball and eccentric friends. It's an excellent little film, but some may be disappointed that Gaspar Noé is not the enfant terrible that his reputation suggests, in fact he's cheerful, relaxed and funny, and refreshingly down to earth.

Gaspar Noé (left) and Harmony Korine sample some local Nashville color
The limited edition 3-disc Capelight DVD is still available at Amazon Germany. Not sure how limited this edition is, but its well worth a purchase.

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Notes
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1. The idea of seeing the film through the eyes of its protagonist is hardly a new concept - Orson Welles had planned to shoot Heart of Darkness with a subjective camera as far back as 1939 (the film was scrapped and Welles made Citizen Kane instead) and actor/director Robert Montgomery shot his 1947 noir Lady In the Lake so the action unfolds through the eyes of private detective Philip Marlowe.

16 comments:

  1. Excellent review Wes, it sounds fascinating. Just OT but Bruce La Bruce is the best name I've heard for ages!

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  2. Thanks Mart. Yeah, Bruce La Bruce has been around for quite a while making underground gay films like No Skin Off My Ass (1991), Super 8½ (1994), and Hustler White (1996). His latest thing L.A Zombie, a gay living dead film has been whipping up a great deal of controversy, so I might see if I can find a copy. Should be interesting to say the least !

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  3. Great review, Wes. I have mixed feelings about Noe. I still think his first film Seul Contre Tous is his best. Like you, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch Irreversible all the way through. I saw the shorter version of Enter the Void at my local rep cinema, with Noe in attendance. The audience didn't seem to like the film that much judging by their reactions and the Q&A afterwards. I think Noe was a bit disappointed that his film wasn't that well received because he seemed to shy away from difficult questions.

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  4. Thanks Jon, great comment. Yeah I must admit there was some trepidation on my part as the film began, but I liked the film all the more for not being as nihilistic as Noé's previous films. This will be a film I will return to again and again. Rather shamefully, I've never seen I Stand Alone, something I must rectify soon...

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  5. I agree that the film was less nihilistic and I liked it too for that reason. I kept waiting for the harrowing stuff but it didn't come (although the car crash scenes were quite traumatic). I thought the 'trip' was absolutely stunning (especially on the big screen) and flashes of greatness throughout. He said he came up with the idea of the film when he still a teenager and I thought that was quite telling. Seul Contre Tous is very brutal but I thought it was very truthful in the way it links economic hardship with deep resentment and fascist thinking. Have you seen his earlier short film, Carne? Again, gruelling stuff but very powerful.

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  6. No, I havn't seen Carne either, again something I keep at a safe distance never quite working up the nerve to actually go and see it. I cannot think of another film maker that inspires such apprehension in me...

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  7. I absolutely love Enter The Void and even managed to catch it 3 times at the cinema (the first was in France where I got to see the film with the seventh reel intact - and the preferred cut for me).
    I've watched it at home a few times (I have the German release you reviewed Wes), but it really doesn't compare to the cinema experience, which is good and bad. Good because it highlights the power that cinema still retains as an involving experience, and the fact that film makers still make films with that in mind, but bad because that experience is a little too unique and is difficult to repeat.
    Certainly the first time I saw it I was literally reeling at the end and came out of the cinema like I'd been at a rave all night - that sort of paradoxically hollow yet fulfilled feeling. It was so similar to a narcotic experience and I think this may be what some commentators are trying to describe when they claim he's pushing the boundaries of cinematic capabilities, and I for one agree because I've never had such a physical reaction to any other film in my life.
    It's like when I first saw Star Gate, wait stay with me on this, and they pass through the gates and all those whirring visuals are projected at the viewer to allude to space/time travel, but really you still remain in your seat unmoved emotionally or physically. What Noe has achieved through meticulous sound and visual experimentation with Enter The Void is exactly what I've dreamed of in cinema, something that 3D will never, ever achieve.

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  8. Fantastic stuff Phil, thanks for posting that... Yeah, I might have stood a chance of seeing this on the big screen if Cork's one and only art cinema hadn't gone bust, so the Blu was my only choice. But yeah, an extraordinary film, even difficult to talk and write about. Irreversible had been a hugely alienating film for me, and I'm not sure if I could revisit the film again so I was a little scared going into Void, but it was a tremendous sensory experience. Just looking back on my post there, I seemed a tad negative, more than I should have been. In fact I'm waiting for the perfect time to watch the Blu again, if I can elbow the wife out of the house for a few hours. But yeah, this is galaxy-expanding Cinema...

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  9. Well, you know reviews are written in a frame of mind that's pertinent to the reviewers feelings then and I completely understand some people's lack of connection with the performers, although I felt quite drawn into the movie by them, which tells you something about the people I know!
    I've seen Irreversible numerous times, which probably makes me sound like a weirdo, but even now when I rewatch it I'm filled with trepidation and there's some kind of masochistic streak in me that likes this feeling that someone's art can be so bloody powerful, that no matter how many times I put the disc in the machine my palms get sweaty and my feet start tapping and that feeling of dread creeps into my peripheral conscious.
    I know a lot of Noe fans prefer Seul Contre Tous and Carne to his later films, but I think he's the perfect example of a film maker whose ideas are not beyond the reach of his capabilities. This yearning for pushing boundaries both aesthetically and away from the established canon of cinema really fascinates me. Whilst his debut films(s) are fantastic examples of visceral and challenging cinema, it's really with Irreversible and Enter The Void that Noe has taken a step aside from his contemporaries and presented himself, his team and most importantly the viewer with unforgettable experiences. And he's a very lovely and affable chap too as I got to chat with him when I saw Enter The Void back in London.

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  10. I must track down I Stand Alone... I know what you mean about Irreversible. Many times I've planned to watch the film again - putting some time aside, but I genuinely find it a distressing experience, and chicken out of it... I can take all the animal slaughter of Italian cannibal films without a care but Irreversible is the ruin of me... Noé is one of the very few film makers whose work I genuinely look forward to, and I often find myself watching films thinking "imagine what Noé would have done with that sequence"

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  11. I agree Wes, a real masterpiece. I think the detachment you found in characters is intentional, and I quite enjoyed the fact I wasn't sure where I was going in places. By the end I felt I had really experienced something ... I recently slogged through arthouse favourites 'Uncle Boomanie' and 'Hadewijch' which I found completely unimaginative, almost pathologically emotionless & self indulgent, so I can only say thank god for directors like Noe who are actually crafting something unique and special with film and sound.

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  12. Many thanks for the comment Paul, and yes, I totally agree, the film is unique and special and is one of those films that comes around only once every 10 years. It's a film that I'm really looking forward to seeing again...

    Fans of Underground and Experimental Cinema should check out Paul's youtube channel PSYNNO FILMS featuring Paul's excellent short films and visual experiments. Highly recommened viewing.

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  13. Thanks a lot, Wes, it means a lot to me that you've seen my work and enjoyed it.

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  14. Thanks for this, spotted your post in the Empire forum as I saw Enter The Void last night, loved it and immediately wanted to get the Bluray (bizarre that it's had no UK release). Will definitely get this German edition. Cheers.

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  15. I also have this Blu Ray, Wes, and I agree with you on the film and presentation of the disc. The lack of sharpness is definitely due to both with how it was filmed and the amount of processing that was done to it in post; but it's a great trade off for one of the most visually unique films I have ever seen.

    I have to say, depending on my mood, I find this film to be as pessimistic as his other works. The whole film feels like a giant tease to a dying man, and at the end of it all (our lives, that is) what do we get? Nothing but the void. Blackness. non-existence. It doesn't help that when I saw it I was struggling myself to accept the fact that some day I was going to die, and beyond that, there would be nothing for me. In fact, it might well have been the worst film I could have watched!

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  16. I think I might just watch Lady in the Lake again instead...

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