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Enter The Void | DVD Review

Seven years after Irreversible, with his first English-language feature, Noé has upped the innovation ante, delivering an audio-visual masterstroke whose plot and performances – admittedly not the reason to want to watch the film – unfortunately leave something to be desired.

Unless you’re an avid cinephile, the name Gaspar Noé probably doesn’t mean much to you. And if you have heard of the Argentinian/French filmmaker, it’s most likely because of an infamous 12-minute explicit rape scene in Irreversible, his bold 2002 experiment in reverse-chronology storytelling. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on regarding that scene, Irreversible is undeniably a visually powerful film from an audacious auteur. Seven years later, with his first English-language feature, Enter The Void, Noé has upped the innovation ante, delivering an audio-visual masterstroke whose plot and performances – admittedly not the reason to want to watch the film – unfortunately leave something to be desired.

The concept is intriguing: Oscar (newcomer Nathaniel Brown) and his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) live in Tokyo, selling drugs and stripping, respectively, to make ends meet. The catch is that we are seeing things unfold from Oscar’s point of view, in the cinematic equivalent of a first-person shooter videogame. When, early in Enter The Void‘s two-hour-and-forty-minute runtime, a drug deal goes bad and Oscar locks himself in a bar’s bathroom to try and ditch the goods, we experience him getting shot and dying in the room. He sees his life, including the horrific car accident that took his parents’ lives while he and his sister watch from the back seat, in a flashback sequence and then things get reaaly strange. The camera starts floating up and away from Oscar’s lifeless body, and the audience realizes that the camera has become Oscar’s tortured soul. The rest of the film revolves around Oscar’s soul flying over buildings, moving through walls, and entering people’s bodies in an effort to come to terms with his death while making sure his siter and friends are going to be okay. It’s hard to judge Brown’s performance as Oscar, since we rarely see his face, but apart from newcomer Cyril Roy – who escorted a nervous friend to the audition only to be selected himself – who turns in an amusing and realistic performance as the siblings’ artist friend Alex, the acting in the film is pretty ‘cardboard’, especially de la Huerta, who seems to only have one emotion and one facial expression regardless of whether she’s mourning her brother’s death, dancing for her customers, or having sex with her boss.

As mentioned earlier, Enter The Void is not a film that people will watch for the story; the name itself denotes that. In an early scene, as Oscar and Alex walk to the bar discussing The Tibetan Book of the Dead and its theories of reincarnation, we already know where the film is going, structure-wise. But it’s the visual and – to a lesser extent – audio presentations that make Enter The Void a film to be experienced. Noé has taken many influences, from 1947’s Lady in the Lake with its first-person point of view to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with its tricked out visuals, not to mention the aforementioned Tibetan tome, and forged a truly unique viewing experience. Right from the frenetic, Vegas-style opening credit sequence, straight through to the final scene of Oscar’s ‘rebirth’, the audience is in for a visual treat and will not notice that the film is over two and a half hours long. Some of what you see may need to be experienced a second time to truly appreciate the innovation that went into it. For example, in one of the few scenes in which we see Oscar’s face, he’s looking at himself in the mirror, and every few seconds the screen goes black for a second or so. It takes a while to realize that this isn’t a glitch in the film; it’s what Oscar is seeing (or not seeing) when he’s blinking. It’s the little tricks like this that make the high-concept Enter The Void a film well worth seeing.

The widescreen presentation and 5.1 digital audio are very well done on this DVD from E1 Entertainment, and it’s assumed that the brief periods of visual and audio murkiness are intentional. As far as special features go, there’s nothing too insightful included on the disc, which is a shame:

Deleted Scenes:
Here we are treated to 12 minutes of scenes that weren’t in the movie for various reasons that will remain unknown, since there’s no commentary or explanation about why they were removed.

This seven-minute(!) montage of teasers for the film is interesting in that it shows the wide array of marketing techniques that can be used to make many ads for the same film seem different.

Three-and-a-half minutes of international trailers…this is starting to grate.

US Trailer
The 2:09 American trailer for Enter The Void. Are we done with the trailers yet?

Unused Trailers
Enough already!

Quite an interesting little featurette that only suffers slightly from its complete lack of narration. In its eleven minutes, we see how some of the visual effects in the film were achieved, including the fascinating aftermath of the abortion scene.

This five-and-a-half minute loop of kaleidoscopic visuals is an extension of some of the visuals used in the film when Oscar’s soul is traveling from one place to the next. Probably best experienced while high on something.

2:12 of similar visuals, this time depicting what Oscar was experiencing while high on DMT.

20 images of the various promotional posters used in the film’s marketing campaign.

Docked a point for its so-so story and largely cardboard acting, Gaspar Noé’s Enter The Void is still a film well worth seeing, especially for people interested in the finer points of filmmaking. There’s a reason it was nominated for the Palme D’or at Cannes and that it won a special jury prize and the award for Best Cinematography (awarded to Benôit Debie) at Sitges. It’s a film that is destined to be shown in college filmmaking courses for years to come. Whether you think that’s a good or a bad thing will also give you your answer as to whether you might want to see it.
Oh, yeah, one more thing: if your eye is quick enough to catch it during the credit sequence at the beginning of the film, that’s this reviewer’s son credited – albeit with his last name spelled wrong – as one of the two children who played two-year-old Oscar.

Movie rating – 3.5

Disc Rating – 2.5

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