Tag: gaspar noe


Climax (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

An argument can be made that there is no movie here, let alone a strong story that is worth the emotional journey. But leave it to shock maestro Gaspar Noé to create an unadulterated sensory experience from a near-nothing. I found “Climax” to be hypnotic, brave, and free. We are not meant to care about any of the characters on screen so long as they move their bodies and create amazing shapes and contortions. It cannot be denied that it is exactly the film that the filmmaker wanted to make. And for that, it is certainly worth seeing.

The work is divided into two halves: a relatively tame party after a successful dance rehearsal followed by the aftermath of drinking sangria spiked with LSD. But before the first half begins, we sit through various interview tapes of the dancers who may or may no live through the night in question. We learn about their attitudes about sex, sexuality, sensuality, drugs, country of origin, and America. We get a strong impression of how much they value being able to express themselves through dance. One of the dancers claims that if she could not dance any longer, she would commit suicide. As we see her dance for the first time, we realize she is dead serious.

It is apparent there is a strong partnership between Noé and choreographer Nina McNeely, proven by the first dance sequence seemingly shot in one take. It is amazing how every performer is ready to shuffle in and out of the shot as they execute eyebrow-raising moves. It is a joy and a surprise to watch because, for example, a dancer who comes across a bit stiff thirty seconds prior can suddenly return to the middle of the frame so soft and pliant. It makes the viewer question whether potentially erroneous moments were actually done on purpose in order to subvert expectations. Furthermore, notice that although the dance is focused on limbs and torsos being thrown about, performers always have strong emotions on their faces. This sequence alone requires repeated viewing; it is that impressive.

There are no characters, but there are personalities. A few standouts include a mother (Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull) of a little boy (Vince Galliot Cumant) who is suspected of having drugged the drinks simply because she was the one who prepared it, the man who would not stop bragging about his sexual conquests (Romain Guillermic) which earns him the title of being a “ticket to an STD,” the siblings who clash (Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle) when the subject of personal freedom is broached, and the woman we see during the opening shot (Souheila Yacoub) as she crawls through the snow while drenched in blood. Every one of these subjects is followed by the camera at some point without compromise. Showing people experiencing a high is one thing—so many filmmakers do this. But to show paralyzing repercussions through the lens of realism is another. At times the movie works as a horror film.

Noé is strongest when constructing a claustrophobic chamber piece. While “Climax” is not his strongest work, it is still a cut above generic filmmaking so often constrained by plot and the need to create characters worth rooting for. Not here. What matters is that we have a reaction to it. If you walk away from this film and finding yourself not having an impression or an opinion, you are dead inside. The movie’s purpose, I think, is to provoke. Get on.

I Stand Alone

I Stand Alone (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★

The Butcher (Philippe Nahon) impregnates a fat woman (Frankie Pain) and although he is not happy about the situation, the two move in together with The Mistress’ overbearing mother-in-law (Martine Audrain). Since the woman with child has money saved up, they plan to rent a space so that The Butcher can open a shop and start a business.

The Butcher and The Mistress do not get along yet they hang onto the possibility that their relationship can get better by engaging in a business venture. However, certain turn of events fail to go according to plan which puts The Butcher into a mindset so dark, he eventually confronts the mother of his child and strikes her stomach area multiple times with his bare fists.

Written and directed by Gaspar Noé, “Seul contra tous” is clearly a piece of work that is not meant to be enjoyed by anyone. Its level of emotional, physical, and psychological violence is so extreme, there are times when I wondered why my eyes continue to watch and my ears keep listening despite my brain’s suggestion that perhaps it is a good idea to stop. While intense images inspire the audience to feel disgust and horror, the inner monologue of the main character disturbs in such a way that inspires one to wonder if there really are people out there just like him.

What I love about the movies is that they are able to go beyond what we expect a movie to be, they are a penetrative art. The writer-director uses that potential to put us into The Butcher’s shoes, run around, and stay in them until it becomes an unbearable, dirty experience. The Butcher does not have a metaphorical lever in his mind. His negative thoughts accrue until he finally loses control and commits random terrible acts.

While many will agree that his actions are driven by major depression, I considered his actions as a product of a mind so fractured—alloyed with disappointments, loneliness and trepidation—he is unable to function properly in society. The film’s first few minutes give the audiences a brief synopsis of how his life has ended up the way it is. With all the challenges he has been through, to reduce the fact that he has only a mood problem is not fully representative of his symptoms.

I admired the picture’s internal monologues. Despite the irrationality of The Butcher’s thoughts, they are utilized so effectively to the point where every time his voice is heard, his dark desires and needs bombard the screen to the point where the images we see on screen almost feel secondary in significance. Instead, as if his words are a virulent psychic virus intent on causing malfeasance, we are pushed to create images in our heads, specifically the violence he wishes to inflict on people (Monsieur Billot, Gérard Ortega) who do not approve of him.

Although “Seul contra tous,” also known as “I Stand Alone,” lacks a typical and defined character arc, it is redeemed by its ideas and a willingness to dig deep into its subject’s id. The character might have been disconnected from reality, but the movie’s themes are clear, likely to inspire heated deliberations.

It is consistently interesting because the material goes beyond the question of whether The Butcher is a good or bad person. On the spectrum of good versus bad, as individuals with (presumably) sound minds, where do we assign a person who is genuinely confused, a person who appears to be but not at all there? The film suggests a brave thing in that maybe we should not.


Irreversible (2002)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Every once in a while a movie comes along and dares to ask what violence means to us. It is likely that my definition of the word–the broad, the specific, and its implications–will differ from yours and others’. Great movies does not define the word for you and me. Instead, it treats the subject in a serious manner–with insight and enough room to question and consider. Although “Irréversible,” written and directed by Gaspar Noé, is criticized for being morally reprehensible for not knowing where to draw the line in terms of showing different kinds of violence–threats, a murder, a woman being raped–it has artistic value because inflicting pain–physical, psychological, emotional–is never the final destination.

The story is told in reverse chronological order. We observe just above the Rectum, a gay sex club, where one man is arrested and the other is taken to the back of the ambulance in a stretcher. People throw profanities at them. We learn that Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) are together because they are looking for a man responsible for raping a woman named Alex (Monica Belluci). Earlier, they see her being taken away, covered in blood. One of the medical personnel says she is in a coma. Marcus is inconsolable and Pierre is barely able to keep the rabid dog in chains.

Noé’s camerawork has verve. In order to add to the immediacy of the mystery, the first third is comprised of rather dizzying movements. It is almost as if the camera is placed on a fly that is looking for something alluring to land on or on a leaf being carried by conflicting winds. When it is more settled, it mimics the movement we feel when floating on water. The decision to keep the camera moving allows us to absorb the mood of each scene.

Particularly impressive is the scene involving Marcus and Pierre looking for a man named Le Tenia inside a sex club. Their desperate search is almost like looking into a nightmare, a dungeon or a house of horrors where pain meets pleasure. As people inside engage in all sorts of sexual gratification, their faces and bodies are bathed in yellow, orange, and red against the black. While we can clearly hear the moans of hedonism against Marcus’ increasing anger (and Pierre’s increasingly desperate suggestions that they leave), we see only glimpses of the orgies and bizarre fetishes. It is meant to be an assault to the senses. We are supposed to be confused, like the naked people suddenly being pulled by Marcus to answer some questions, and, in a way, afraid, like Pierre recognizing that he and Marcus are out of their element.

The rape scene is meant to be ugly. Unlike the earlier technique that involves the camera moving about, this time it is as still as a corpse. When the woman is pinned to the ground on a ventral position and the assailant thrusts in and out of her, aroused by his power, the camera does not blink or flinch. The woman gets several kicks in the face and then on her body. She is then punched several times. Finally, he proceeds to smash her face on the floor. I wanted to look away but didn’t; the entire thing made my limbs feel weak. I felt sick about it. And angry–not because of what Noé chooses to show but due to what is happening to the woman. I found myself relating to Marcus’ rage. It took me back to a time where I would allow myself to get so angry, the more people I upset just so they could feel a smidgen of how I felt, the better. Yes, it is a choice.

What I admired most about “Irreversible” is the shift in the way we evaluate the characters. During the first half, we see and define them through what they do. In the second half, we understand them a little bit through the things they say and how they are like in good company. There is a shocking difference between the way a night starts and the manner in which it ends. The writer-director’s choice to tell his story backwards inspires us to think about our immediate reactions with respect to each scene and then later as a whole when we have all the facts.

Enter the Void

Enter the Void (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) has been reading “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” which purports to inform what one can expect to experience after death as well as reincarnation. On one fateful night, Victor (Olly Alexander) phones Oscar, a rookie drug dealer, and asks him to deliver a stash of pills in person. This proves to be a set-up, however, when Tokyo police comes busting into the bar. Out of panic, Oscar runs to the restroom and locks himself in one of the stalls to flush the illicit drugs down the toilet. Claiming that he has a gun and implies to use it if the cops don’t leave him alone, one of the officers shoots at the door and the bullet punctures Oscar’s chest. Although his dying body is sprawled on the floor, his spirit hovers above and looks down on the scene.

Written and directed by Gaspar Noé, “Enter the Void” is a bizarre, challenging, and perplexingly enveloping experience. From the moment we are forced to see through the protagonist’s eyes and hear his thoughts, I immediately felt like I was a part of his complicated and dangerous lifestyle, from his highly disorganized and dingy apartment where the floor is barely seen due to piles of books, unwashed dishes, and clothes to his increasingly desperate itch to experience another high.

None of the performances are especially impressive but I studied each character in fascination. Most of the time, we tend to interact with people with the aid of their facial expressions. In here, it is interesting that their faces are often hidden in either shadows or bright lights. At times they are even angled in such away that we only get see half of their faces or the back of their head faces us. It’s rare that we get to observe a character face-on under clear, natural light. This paves the way for the man behind the camera to shine.

The writer-director uses his camera to deliver expressions that we are unable to extract from the characters. For instance, when people argue, its movements are quite vigilant as if ready to get out of the way if or when the altercation turns physical. Conversely, when a character experiences a high, there is a heavy, hypnotic, and lumbering quality in its maneuvering. One quietly outstanding exercise in camerawork involves Oscar looking in the mirror while we remain to see him through his eyes. When he moves his head to the left or right, the movement of the camera to the left or right is perfectly timed. When he blinks or puts his hand on eyelids, the screen turns dark momentarily. When remnants of his high digs its nails into his brain, we can see translucent bright lights juxtaposed against the objects around him.

Following Oscar around the streets of Tokyo, most areas very well-lit due to its thriving nightlife, is another impressive feat because Noé manages to maintain his techniques despite the many goings-on outside and inside seedy establishments. I only wished that extended scenes of sex were cut down severely because they function more on the level of shock value instead of enhancing of the experience.

The picture is also surprisingly moving. Through carefully timed glimpses, we learn about Oscar and Linda (Paz de la Huerta), his only sister, and how circumstances separated and brought them together. I can see their story being a wonderful character study if the film had been a straightforward narrative about their relationship. “Enter the Void” has a heart underneath its blinding bright lights, depictions of graphic sex, and obfuscated implications. Though we observe Oscar’s life in pieces and out of chronological order, the material is so informative that most of us can admit that he can be so much more if he had decided to walk away from a life of drugs and never looked back before it had been too late.