Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch is certainly as monumental and successful a literary experiment as any discussed on this site. Ostensibly, the book is the story of Horacio Oliveira, an Argentine bohemian clambering through Paris. He’s defined by the conviction that he has chosen the wrong path in life; a self-labeled failure, there is nothing left for him but to struggle, hopelessly, against his failings. Condemned to beat his head against a brick wall that he knows only may be toppled by future generations, Oliveira is a wandering soul, a man obsessed with memory because the only thing that keeps him going is the question of whether or not any path he could have chosen would have led him to the same place.Read More
Speaking of blowing people’s minds, did you see Enter the Void?
That was my favorite movie of the past five years.
Altering Perceptions on an Astral Plane Trip
By MANOHLA DARGIS
[NY Times - 9.23.2010]
In “Enter the Void” the camera soars above the world like a bird, like a kite, like a ghost. It moves with smooth, gentle motions and seemingly indecisive purpose, passing through walls, drifting over alleys and climbing high above the roofs of a nighttime city agleam in jeweled color. At times it hovers next to one of the city’s inhabitants like an angel or a threat. Occasionally it even appears to take up temporary residence in someone’s head — dive-bombing toward the back of a skull like a blow — so that it (and we) can see the world directly from another point of view: This is your brain. This is your brain on a Gaspar Noé movie.
More specifically, “Enter the Void” is the latest from the never uninteresting, sometimes exasperating Mr. Noé, whose films, like “Irrevérsible” (2002), skew toward provocations, filled with flashes of genius and irredeemable nonsense. The title of “Enter the Void,” which sounds like both a dare and a fun-house attraction, makes sense in a work about death and other hard times, but it also expresses Mr. Noé’s bad-boy, punk attitude, which can be hard to take seriously. His insistence on representing ugly extremes (incest, rape, murder) can be especially wearisome, coming across as weak bids to shock his audience (épater la bourgeoisie, as the French poets once said), which, already expecting (perhaps eagerly) a Gaspar Noé freakout, is unlikely to have its world genuinely rocked. But bring it on, Gaspar!
And so he does in “Enter the Void,” where, with beauty, mild and sharp jolts, and mesmerizing camerawork, he tries to open the doors of perception. Set primarily in Tokyo and often at night, the film is divided into two sections. In the first, a young American, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), smokes some hallucinogens — the screen exploding with phosphorescent, biomorphic forms — walks around, buys and sells drugs, and discusses the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In the second section, Oscar’s spirit (or something) appears to separate from his apparently dying body, gazing down at the bleeding man curled on the floor. The flesh will surely rot, but the spirit will continue the journey, plunging into the night and darker memories.
Is Oscar dead or dreaming? Certainly he seems more alive as a spirit, if only because by the second section the camera is freed from the constraints of normal human activity. That’s true even though from the start of the film we share Oscar’s literal perspective, seeing what he sees. It’s an unusual vantage. Movies generally try to lock you into the story by placing a camera in intimate proximity with a character, as with over-the-shoulder shots. We’re so accustomed to these conventions that we tend to notice only the deviations, as in the work of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (“The Son”), where the camera sometimes hovers so near to a character’s ear that you can’t see much else in the shot, creating a sense of shared vision.
In the Dardenne films, this intimacy between you and the character (and, by extension, the filmmakers) is as much an ethical stance — they bring you close to the blessed and the damned — as it is a narrative strategy. “Enter the Void” is a different kind of beast, partly because it’s told through Oscar’s sustained point of view. This subject position — in which the camera, a character and the audience share the same look — can be very powerful, allowing you to see through a character’s eyes in blissful or terrifying communion. The dreamlike shot of James Stewart’s character pushing open a flower-shop door to gaze at a resplendent Kim Novak in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” for instance, is one of the most haunting in cinema.
But if held for long, the subjective point of view can seem like a gimmick, even weird, as if the camera were mounted on the character’s neck instead of the head. You begin to wonder how the trick was pulled off, which can break the narrative spell, or so conventional wisdom insists. In truth, viewers are more adaptive than moviemaking manuals. And, indeed, sustained point-of-view shots are more common in nonfiction cinema, where we are trained to see through the eyes of filmmakers holding cameras, as in “The Gleaners and I” (2000), Agnès Varda’s poetic essay about collecting and other pursuits. In that movie, the first-person form of address is intensely personal because the filmmaker’s body sometimes seems one with the camera — she fills the apparatus with her humanity.
“Enter the Void,” despite its attempt to fuse man with machine, is scarcely as friendly, though it’s certainly a personal work. If you care about strong stories, don’t bother. Hardly anything happens here in conventional movie terms, though there’s plenty of decorative pulp — drug dealers, drug abusers, pole dancers, love-hotel clients — none of it gripping. Oscar’s sister, played by Paz de la Huerta in a monotone and with her customary lack of clothes, is easy on the eyes if hard on the ears. And the scene of a cataclysmic accident that the siblings shared once upon a time is stunning, at least the first time around. Unfortunately, Mr. Noé, never one for subtlety, repeats the trauma several times, draining it of its power.
And still, you keep watching. I have twice, happily — the first time at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie ran 17 minutes longer. The cuts haven’t hurt the film, as far as I can tell, though I preferred the extended-play version because there seemed to be more astral-drift and trippy flowers. Whatever the case, those blooms are a nice change for Mr. Noé, who’s overly fond of grossing you out. Speaking of which, be warned: there’s a graphic scene of an abortion near the end that’s capped with a ludicrously intact fetus, a scene that speaks more to Mr. Noé’s debt to Stanley Kubrick and the star child in “2001” than to the ostensible spiritual themes in “Enter the Void.” Of course, for some, Kubrick is God. Mr. Noé, on the other hand, is a follower, if one to watch.
Link: noéRead More
All eyes are on Robespierre’s Tumbril, where he, his jaw bound in dirty linen, with his half-dead Brother and half-dead Henriot, lie shattered, their “seventeen hours” of agony about to end. The Gendarmes point their swords at him, to show the people which is he. A woman springs on the Tumbril; clutching the side of it with one hand, waving the other Sibyl-like; and exclaims: “The death of thee gladdens my very heart, m’enivre de joi”; Robespierre opened his eyes; “Scélérat, go down to Hell, with the curses of all wives and mothers!” — At the foot of the scaffold, they stretched him on the ground till his turn came. Lifted aloft, his eyes again opened; caught the bloody axe. Samson wrenched the coat off him; wrenched the dirty linen from his jaw: the jaw fell powerless, there burst from him a cry; — hideous to hear and see. Samson, thou canst not be too quick!Read More