What goes around, comes around

Last night, I sat myself down to finally watch the director’s cut of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void [2009]. At 160 minutes, it’s a tough viewing experience – but then, having seen the director’s harrowing and hypnotic Irreversible [2002] (a partner-piece in style and tone to Enter the Void), and with the addition into the mix of hallucinatory drugs, this was always going to be more magic mushroom phantasm than Magic Roundabout.

The opening scenes are shot in claustrophobic p.o.v. from the perspective of protagonist-of-sorts, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young American drug dealer and escalating junkie. We see only through his glazed and unfocused eyes, right up until the moment he is gunned down by police while frantically scrabbling to flush his stash in a filthy Tokyo nightclub cubicle. Post-mortem, he continues to be our peephole as his soul vacates his defunct body and floats above and through the grimy, garish streets and bars of the seedy Tokyo underworld.


Noé’s swirling camera never stops moving, and his pounding, pulsating soundtrack mash-up never stops playing, marrying wonderfully with the myriad of cyclical imagery that was also so prevalent in Irreversible. Indeed, the unexpected commercial and critical success of this previous film finally enabled Void, a long time passion project for the Argentinean born director, to come to fluorescent fruition. The camera finds, quite literally, every hole and orifice that it can to enter, as Oscar’s floating spirit attempts to keep a watchful eye over those he’s left behind.

Despite being a psychedelic, nightmarish vision of somewhere between purgatory and hell (a kind of counterpoint to Terrence Malick’s heavenly The Tree of Life [2011]), there is only one real scene of explicit violence, and instead it is the copious amounts of lucid sex, including one now notorious “internal” shot of a vagina (I did say literally every orifice), that caused the most controversy upon the film’s release.

The fallout from Oscar’s death is inter-cut with blurred flashbacks, hallucinatory fantasies and surreal nightmares – all of which Oscar views with an almost passive detachment (arguably befitting of a spirit), but also one, it is later revealed, that he has seemingly displayed throughout his natural life.

In contrast to the quiet Oscar is his damaged and vulnerable sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who yells, screams, sobs and moans her way through proceedings in an incredibly committed performance from de la Huerta. Never more vividly and viscerally is this juxtaposition shown than in a repeated and gut-wrenching scene in which the young siblings witness their parents’ mutilation and death in a car crash. As a muted Oscar watches helplessly on, his terrified, blood soaked sister screams uncontrollably at the horror before her scarred eyes – it’s a shriek that stays with you long after the film’s end.

In addition to the abundant cyclical imagery, it soon becomes clear, in fact from the opening suggestive scene, that Linda is also the primary object of his transferred oedipal eye. We see flashbacks including explicit and more subtle mother-son Freudian imagery, and an adult Oscar also has an affair with his best friend’s mother (an act that inadvertently leads to his death). However, it is arguably Linda who remains the foremost object of his confused gaze.

It’s difficult to say that you enjoy a film such as Enter the Void but it’s undoubtedly an interesting and inflammatory effort, that has the magic touch of keeping you glued to the screen when perhaps you most want to look away. Rich with imagery and metaphor, it heightens Noé’s position as one of the best and most provocative auteurs around. So, if a tangled fibre-optic web of oedipal obsession played out against a kaleidoscopic trip of neon tubes in the seedy Tokyo underworld takes your fancy, then look no further, and enter the void.


Crime trilogy review

I shall begin with Killer Joe [Friedkin, 2012] because, well, it demands it. The theatrical poster described the film as ‘A totally twisted, deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story’ and that’s pretty much bang on.

Adapted from her own play by Tracy Letts, this is one of the most surreal, horrifically funny yet disgustingly demented films I’ve ever seen. Some of the acting, particularly in the opening scenes, is a bit ropey and Thomas Haden Church who plays the role of slow, clueless and emotionally vacant father Ansel delivers most of his lines with such a staggering lack of conviction that it’s difficult to tell whether he’s really bad or really good.

On the flipside of this grimy coin of a movie is Matthew McConaughey, who plays the eponymous policeman-come-hitman. I’ve never been a fan but here, he stalks the screen like a reptilian angel of death clad in Western bad-guy black and never ceases to menace, ratcheting up the tension with every flick of his lighter or carefully articulated word.

The violence is grotesque to the point of absurdity, but the mood and tone is pure film noir, albeit, mutated to a new level of moribundity, depravity and vile amorality. It is safe to say that southern-fried chicken will never look the same again.

On a not too dissimilar vein of violence and morality is Cell 211 [Monzón, 2009], in which a fresh-faced and seemingly naive young prison guard becomes inadvertently embroiled in a prison riot and finds that the best way to survive is to pretend he’s a fellow inmate and cosy up to the brilliantly named head-honcho, Malamadre (the excellent Luis Tosar).

The pace is steady as we flit between the lawless prison and the ‘outside world’, where prison guards and officials are inhibited by protocols, political pressure and an inability to decide the best course of action. Monzón steadily builds the tension as the plot twists and turns and prison guard Juan’s (Alberto Ammann) position becomes increasingly fragile due to mistrust on both sides of the cell door.  A good taut thriller that certainly pulls no punches and is all the better for it.

Lastly, French crime auteur Olivier Marchal’s most recent effort A Gang Story [2011] tells a tale of deep-seated loyalty between a group of aging gangsters known as Les Lyonnais. Gypsy, Momon Vidal (Gérard Lanvin), is nearing 60 and is looking to put his notorious bank-robbing and murderous past firmly behind him. Yet, as is always the case with such types, it’s easier said than done. The re-arrival of Momon’s former right-hand man Serge (Tchéky Karyo) throws this quiet life into turmoil and Momon finds himself getting increasingly drawn back into a world he thought he’d left behind.

Admittedly, the premise is nothing new and A Gang Story certainly won’t go down as a classic but nobody quite does the gangster/crime genre as well as the French and at the moment, Marchal, is just behind Jacques Audiard at the head of the queue (just check out O.M’s ongoing TV series Braquo for a top quality twisted taste of crime, loyalty, morality and brotherhood). A certainly watchable but as easily forgettable film that doesn’t quite live up to the lofty standards of Audiard’s The Beat that my Heart Skipped (2005) and A Prophet (2009) or TV offerings Braquo and Engrenages.

Killer Joe – 3.5 out of 5

Cell 211 – 4 out of 5

A Gang Story – 2.5 out 5