Enter the Void

August 11, 2010

I have agreed elsewhere with James Quandt’s assertion that much of the New French Extremism which has come along in recent decades has replaced the politically challenging and artistically complex films that came before with “an aggressiveness that is really a grandiose form of passivity.” After seeing Gasper Noé’s latest, Enter the Void (2009) I stand by what I said.

Noé is truly a modern-day enfant terrible if ever there was one: his films more an annoying exercise in challenging traditional modes of viewing than engaging or entertaining viewing in and of themselves. Though personally not averse to such a premise (heck, I love experimental cinema probably even a little more than the next person) there is an arrogance that goes along with Noé’s version of experimenta that ventures beyond slight abrasion and arrives at raw irritation. But personal feelings aside, Enter the Void is indeed an interesting film (albeit at least an hour overlong) for what it says about the way in which we are accustomed to receiving cinematic visuals.

Starting with the most incredible title sequence I’ve ever seen, Enter the Void is high-octane at the outset but, as its protagonists descend into a drug-fuelled liminality between life and death, so too is the viewer induced into a trance like state, receiving a lengthy and repetitive succession of seedy images that straddle a strange space between stimulating and sedating. Without any access to the usual outlets of spectatorial identification and devoid of the type of affect that encourages an active engagement in a narrative, Enter the Void never asks its audience to disavow and constantly reminds them that they are at the mercy of a (somewhat sadistic) filmmaker (for two long hours and thirty-four even longer minutes, I might add.) This does however produce a poignant line of questioning, particularly as it pertains to the idea of feature-length film within the realm of counter-cinema (most experimental film is short in duration, one of the many usual ways in which it counters the mainstream cinema it is necessarily situated against.)

But even after being coerced by Noé into contemplating the merits of identification and considering the artifice of cinema as highlighted through cinematic excess (see Kristen Thompson’s “The Concept of Cinematic Excess” and then Jeffrey Sconce’s “Trashing the Academy: Taste, Excess and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style”), I couldn’t help but feel as though he were sat right behind me, laughing at my gullibility whilst counting his bulging pay packet. I’d like to say that Enter the Void deserves the appreciation and attention it will undoubtedly get, but in reality all I really hope for is to see an editor take a pair of scissors to it like a dog in heat.


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