Why would anybody spend millions of dollars and years of their life making a gigantic effects-laden experimental film/trip, and then allow it to contain a line as stilted as “I once more dreamed about the accident”? That’s the first, petty, question that haunts me regarding Gaspar Noe’s ENTER THE VOID. Time was when European filmmakers hired skilled collaborators to help them get the language right. Of course, it didn’t always work. Polanski’s pal John Brownjohn may have polished the dialogue in REPULSION, but it still sounds odd. Remove a filmmaker’s first language and you risk deadening a major aspect of their work. One thinks of, and shudders at, the idiomless drone of Lars Von Trier’s characters since he moved out of his native tongue.
ENTER THE VOID could actually have stood being a lot less verbal anyway. It’s supposed to be an immersive, psychedelic headwarp, and the flat speech keeps grounding it, or shooting it out of the skies. There’s also a lengthy exposition on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which could have been left to the audience to find out about, and certainly could have been trimmed to avoid setting up a bunch of expectations which are not actually fulfilled (the TBotD is a lot more exciting and action-packed than this movie proves to be).
One has to be fair and admit that a lot of Noe’s imagery is very impressive, and there’s a nice blend of subjective camera long takes (complete with blinks) and Out Of Body Experience shots which often drift just behind the protagonist, sometimes dipping into his head (or somebody else’s) in order to peak through their eyes for a bit, and sometimes skipping through time into flashbacks, usually triggered by some visual connection. The widescreen photography is often stunning and the credits sequence is a blinder (almost literally).
But but but… Noe’s conception of humanity is so childish (it’s interesting the the little kids give the only impressive performances) and simpleminded… the heroine arrives in Tokyo clutching a teddy bear to tell us she’s innocent… (later, she will scrunch up her face all the time to show that she’s no longer innocent)… his vision is so crass and obnoxious… the camera plunges us headlong into a toilets and an abortion lying in a dish (this isn’t quite as ghastly as it sounds — but it is about 45,000 times more unpleasant than anything you’d actually want to see)… his film is so looooooooong…
They warn you about the strobe imagery but they don’t warn you about the unrelenting tedium. Some of this was actually OK — your head goes into an experimental film place where you accept that you’re going to be staring at some things for longer than they are capable of engrossing you for, so you’ll drift off and start thinking your own thoughts, filtered through or inspired by the slowly unfolding action. But two and a half hours in the company of junkies and stoners — really dully imagined ones, badly acted — just becomes a gruelling ordeal. One doesn’t want to blame Noe’s lead actors, Dunk Wholesap and Jasmine Thrust (not their real names), who are occasionally good enough to suggest that they just might have been able to sustain our enthusiasm with a little help from script and director — the lack of focus on their personalities rather their bodies, displayed as perishable meatsacks, would be hard for any performance to survive. As the movie goes on, the acting generally gets worse, passing through amateur dramatics and into amateur dramatics rehearsal. As Chen Kaige learned to his cost in KILLING ME SOFTLY, this long take approach is all very well if you have the acting talent to sustain the dramatic reality within the shot.
(And by the way, the fact that the musical motif associated with the protag’s stripper sister is Bach’s Air on a G String… isn’t that a little… unfortunate?)
Weirdly, this is one of those films which does deserve to be seen on the big screen, if at all: I suspect it would be unendurable on TV, where you could easily get distracted by your curtains or some dust motes in the air. But I couldn’t really call it money or time well spent, especially when THE MAN WHO WAS SHERLOCK HOLMES was playing on the next screen…