MORE THAN GORE Gaspar Noé
Let us, if you would be so kind, continue with our interrogation of directors identified by critics as emerging with a wave of films loosely labelled ‘New Extremism’. So far, we’ve had a look at Marina de Van’s Dans Ma Peau and Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day. This time, I’d like to turn our attentions towards a much more ubiquitous filmmaker of recent violent trends: Gaspar Noé.
I’m not even sure Noé needs an introduction, much less a discussion. I’m almost tempted to simply drop his name into the mix and walk away, job done. I’m sure you all have plenty to say about Noé, and have most likely already said it. However, I shall proceed.
Noé was born in 1963 in Buenos Aires to the Argentinean artist Luis Felipe Noé. It was the political influence of his father that Noé would later say inspired him for his contribution to the anthology 7 Dias En La Habana/7 Days In Havana, 2012, titled ‘Ritual’.
In spite of now being, presumably, a well-known contributor to cinema, Noé isn’t all that prolific when it comes to directing. He has completed fourteen works since 1985 and the majority of these have been shorts or segments of anthologies, only three of his films have been full length (Seul Contre Tous/I Stand Alone (1998) Irréversible (2002) and Enter The Void (2009)). However, the nature of his labours have made a significant impression in critical, scholarly and commercial spheres.
Seul Contre Tous/I Stand Alone (translated literally as ‘alone against all’) is the sequel to Noé’s short film Carne (1991). Both feature the character of a butcher who is left by his wife once she has given birth to an autistic daughter. The butcher (he is not given a name) is fiercely protective of his daughter – stabbing a man who he thinks has raped her – at the same time as struggling with his own incestuous desires for her. He is sentenced to prison where he has sex with a cellmate. Upon release, he begins work for a woman he eventually gets pregnant. After attempting to kill the unborn child, he returns to see his daughter and contemplates a sexual relationship with her. The film ends as he begins to undress and touch her.
With Seul Contre Tous, Noé introduces themes that will continue through to Irréversible. Issues of race and class are presented as the butcher is forced to sell his shop to a Muslim and harbours a hatred for the exploitative measures of the rich and upper classes. The majority of the dialogue is an inner monologue of the butcher in voiceover, pointing towards notions of interiority. Further, graphic and violent sexualities have arguably become one of Noé’s most recognisable signatures. Although the camera is frequently static throughout this film, the sudden movements accompanied with loud sound effects point towards stylistic experimentations that Noé would continue with in his next film, Irréversible.
When Irréversible was screened at Cannes Film Festival in 2002, Newsweek’s David Ansen reported that many viewers (mostly women) walked out. It is not difficult to understand why; aside from the obviously difficult subject matter of rape, the film is immediately confrontational with mentions of incest, sickening camera movements and an incessant low register pulsation on the soundtrack.
The order of scenes has prompted analysis relating to philosophies of time, even going so far as to suggest it is a reflection of a schizophrenic society.
The film follows a young couple (Marcus, played by Vincent Cassel, and Alex, played by Monica Bellucci) and their friend, Pierre, as they attend a party. Marcus takes drugs and flirts with other women, prompting Alex to leave and make her own way home. As she walks through a subway, she is attacked and raped in a nine-minute long sequence, during which the camera remains static at ground level. The word disturbing doesn’t cover it. Marcus and Pierre find out what has happened and embark on an enraged quest to find the culprit. Their journey ends in an S&M nightclub where Marcus has his arm broken and Pierre beats a man (not the rapist) to a pulp with a fire extinguisher. The narrative ends as Marcus and Pierre are arrested and the camera twists and turns to show us a conversation between the butcher (from Carne and Seul Contre Tous) with an unknown man. The butcher talks of having sex with his daughter. All of this is shown back to front, the actual ending is of Alex lying calmly and peaceful in the sun as children play around her, oblivious to what is to happen to her in a mere few hours.
The order of scenes has prompted analysis relating to philosophies of time, even going so far as to suggest it is a reflection of a schizophrenic society. The presence of a homosexual sadism and masochism nightclub, a bisexual rapist and a non-white transsexual prostitute has prompted complaints that it is inherently reactionary, racist and homophobic. The static camera during the rape scene (throughout the rest of the film, the camera is erratic in its movements) could lead to arguments that the attack is voyeuristic, placing the spectator in a position of objectivity and potential visual pleasure. However, the film was released in cinemas in Britain without cuts, as it was concluded that this particular scene is not titillating. I would suggest that this is, in part, due to the presence of a sub-bass frequency, known to induce nausea when exposed to it for prolonged periods, which undermines the dominance of the visual and places the spectator in the position of the victim.
The unrelenting roaming camera returns in Noe’s third full length feature, Enter The Void, as does the interior monologue that was present in Seul Contre Tous. The film follows the point-of-view of a drug dealer, Oscar, in Tokyo who has become interested in reincarnation. Oscar is set up by one of his clients, whose mother he is sleeping with, and is consequently killed by police. The rest of the (very long) film suggests Oscar is floating around Tokyo witnessing the events that occur in the lives of his friends and family. Oscar is as uninhibited by time as he is by space as he occasionally relives periods of his childhood.
Although it is an interesting idea to make an entire film in the point-of-view of one character, I feel that Enter The Void is too long and lacking in Noé’s previously visceral style. As he has previously confessed to becoming unnerved if his films do not produce acute polar reactions, boredom must be his least favourite criticism. However, even if this film marks the end of Noé’s contributions to the New Extremism (and I hope it doesn’t) he will still have gone further than most to engage us in his visions that are in equal part unnerving and compelling.
Click here to read more entries in the More Than Gore series.
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