Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID

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  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Enter the Void (Blu-ray)




    Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible traumatized a lot of viewers. Some were fascinated by this brutal tale of rape and revenge told in reverse; some called it pretentious trash; and many were simply offended. But one thing was clear: Noé went for an audience’s jugular, and he was good at it. He could take what, in other hands, would be loathsome exploitation material and treat it with a cool, formalist precision that drew viewers in and then, when they were off guard, punched them even harder in the gut. It’s a dubious talent; Irréversible was reportedly the most walked-out movie of 2002.



    Enter the Void is a film that Noé was thinking about and planning long before he made Irréversible. While it lacks the earlier film’s brutality, it’s just as much an assault on the audience in both style and subject matter. (A sign at the IFC Center box office, where the film is still playing, has lengthy warnings and disclaimers.) Noé fragments time, distorts space and deploys an arsenal of digital effects and editing tricks to tell the “story” (if it even qualifies as one) of a brother and sister whose lives have been a downward spiral of tragedy and trauma but whose attachment to one another remains unbroken. Along the way, he churns up a lot of uncomfortable questions about what it means to be born, to exist and to die – the kind of “big” questions that are easy to mock but, in life’s pivotal moments, impossible to dodge.





    Studio: MPI Home Video


    Rated: NR


    Film Length: 161 minutes*


    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1


    HD Encoding: 1080p**


    HD Codec: AVC


    Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1; English PCM 2.0***


    Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish


    MSRP: $29.98


    Disc Format: 1 50GB


    Package: Keepcase


    Theatrical Release Date: May 22, 2009 (Cannes); Jan. 22, 2010 (Sundance); May 5, 2010 (France); Sept. 24, 2010 (U.S. limited)


    Blu-ray Release Date: Jan. 25, 2011



    *A 143-minute version was initially released in the U.S., for reasons that are unclear.



    **I am assuming that the disc is 1080p, because that is the norm for MPI, but I am unable to verify this with my current equipment and the format is not listed on the disc jacket.



    ***For some reason (and it’s probably sloppy proofreading), MPI continues to sport the Dolby Digital logo on its Blu-rays, even though none of its standard audio formats on Blu-ray are by Dolby.





    The Feature:



    Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and Linda (Boardwalk Empire’s Paz de la Huerta) are an American brother and sister currently living in Tokyo, having spent many years being pulled apart by circumstances and fighting to be reunited. Oscar is a confirmed drug abuser and supports his various habits by dealing, though he insists (to himself and others) that “I’m not a dealer”. Linda works as an exotic dancer at a high-end club, whose owner, Mario (Masato Tanno), she is dating, much to Oscar’s chagrin. To the extent that he thinks about it, Oscar would prefer that Linda date his friend, Alex (Cyril Roy), who, while more of a slacker, isn’t engaged in the business of exploiting people. Alex has Oscar reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, about which he speaks with the enthusiasm of a new discovery. (Listen carefully to Alex’s explanation of the Book of the Dead as he and Oscar walk through the Tokyo night. He’s sketching out everything that’s about to happen.)



    The preceding paragraph is something of a “cheat sheet”, because I’ve assembled facts and information in a conventional manner utterly at odds with Noé’s approach. He lets you know right away that this film won’t play by the rules with a flashing, neon-colored credit sequence that no one could possibly read except by stepping through it frame by frame. (One of the IFC Center’s warnings concerns epileptic seizures.) Then we’re inserted into Oscar’s point of view, where we remain for the film’s entire running time – and this isn’t just a conventional POV camera angle. We literally see through Oscar’s eyes at all times, complete with eye blinks, so that Oscar’s face is visible only when he looks in a mirror. Early in the film, Oscar smokes his favorite drug, DMT, which is said to be the hallucinogen that the brain releases at the moment of death, and we’re treated to a long, colorfully abstract hallucination in all its glory. (The sequence is reminiscent of the “star gate” passage in 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of Noé’s major influences.)



    At the most literal level, The Void of the title is a club where Oscar goes to meet Victor (Olly Alexander), a friend who wants the drugs Oscar is holding for him. But it’s also a metaphysical void. When Oscar is grievously wounded in a police raid, the point of view from which we’re seeing everything detaches itself from routine time and space and begins to float freely through Oscar’s memories and perceptions. Images of his mother from infancy mix with recollections of a recent love affair. Childhood experiences with Linda get tangled with recent ones. Perceptions of the real Tokyo are transformed by remembered images of a huge fluorescent sculpture built by Alex’s flatmate. Alex’s ramblings about reincarnation send Oscar careening into a possible future – or is it his real future?



    And that barely scratches the surface. One could write endless pages on what Oscar’s brain (or spirit or whatever) perceives, imagines and assimilates, cataloguing it by chronology, subject matter, theme and image. But it’s unlikely that the exercise would be worth much. All of Noé’s bravura technique (and the cinematic craftsmanship is substantial) is aimed at creating an experience, not an occasion for analysis. The experience can be, by turns, intriguing, perplexing, jolting, erotic, stomach-turning, even groan-inducing – but it’s rarely predictable and certainly never boring. Noé doesn’t just want to take us on a trip through this life (Oscar’s); he wants to use Oscar as an entry point from which to take us on a trip through Life with a capital “L”. It’s easy to laugh at the audacity of such ambitions, but I prefer to admire them, especially when they lead to such intriguing accomplishments.



    Fair warning: The film’s depiction of sexuality is frank, and I’m not even sure all the activity was simulated. By the end, I was reminded of the 1933 opinion of Judge John M. Woolsey when he determined that James Joyce’s Ulysses could be legally imported into the U.S., because, taken as a whole, it was a “somewhat tragic and very powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women” and not “an aphrodisiac”. As with all such intimate and deeply personal matters, your mileage may vary. This is certainly not the first serious film to depict an abortion in graphic detail (see the Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), but I believe it’s the first serious film to contain a full-fledged cumshot, done in a way that no pornographer would have imagined. Noé has said that he watched a lot of porn as a teenager, but he’s so thoroughly a filmmaker that even porn is just another source of inspiration.




    Video:



    Enter the Void was shot by Benoît Debie, who was also the DP for Irréversible, and much of the camera work has the same intimate feel. (Debie also shot The Runaways and an effective but little-seen thriller called Joshua.) Like Irréversible, Enter the Void was largely photographed on 16mm film, with some shots reportedly done on 35mm. The entire film was completed in the digital realm on a digital intermediate. I did not see the film in a theater, but I do know that the IFC Center projected it digitally. Given this history, it’s reasonable to assume that, compression issues aside, what is on the Blu-ray is an accurate representation of the work as Noé completed it and intended it to be seen.



    Detail is excellent throughout the film, and video noise is kept to a minimum. The grain of 16mm is evident if one looks closely, but it has been carefully controlled, either through appropriate lighting and exposure, digital manipulation or a combination of the two. The film’s color palette is astonishingly varied. It can fluoresce with the brightest neon-shaded colors, as in the opening title sequence or various shots of Tokyo night life, or it can become dull and washed out, as in various interiors (e.g., The Void) or in many of Oscar’s memories. Blu-ray’s ability to deliver both subtle and dramatic differentiations of hue is essential to the film’s impact.



    Black levels are an interesting issue. In some scenes, black appears to be truly black. In many others – the night sky over Tokyo, for example – there is hardly any black to be seen, only variations of gray. Since the image is perfectly capable of representing black when called upon to do so, these gray shades appear to be a deliberate choice to lighten up the black in particular scenes (perhaps to reflect the fact that, in a city as brightly lit as Tokyo, the night is never truly dark). I hesitate to call this phenomenon “crushing” or some other pejorative, since neither detail nor color values suffer as a result.




    Audio:



    The DTS lossless soundtrack has an intense and brooding presence that is reminiscent of the atmospheric soundtracks often associated with David Lynch. The bass extension is extremely powerful, because it needs to be; deep bass is such a constant presence on the track that, when additional emphasis is required, the LFE must reach for extremely low tones. Consistent with the POV photography, sounds are placed to left, right and rear, mimicking Oscar’s audio POV. (Another of Noé’s influences was reportedly the “squid vision” in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days.) Dialogue fades in and out, depending on where Oscar is, both physically and spiritually, but we hear clearly what we need to hear. The original music is credited to Thomas Bangalter (who contributed to Iron Man 2), but what one remembers most is the recurring theme from Bach.



    As has been its practice to date, MPI has included a PCM 2.0 track. I cannot imagine any reason to select it over the 5.1 lossless track.




    Special Features:



    Deleted Scenes (SD; 2.35:1, enhanced for 16:9) (12:10). Eight scenes are included. Given the trippy nature of the final product, one can only speculate why they weren’t used. A variation of the mirror shot in which we see Oscar’s face was probably intended to be used later in the film as a “recurrence” but rejected as a horror film cliche (which it would have been).



    Teasers (SD; 2.35:1, enhanced for 16:9) (7:11). These preceded the film’s release and are clearly playing off Noé’s bad boy reputation. They variously refer to the film as “a Gaspar Noé trip”, a Gaspar Noé party” and “a Gaspar Noé orgy”.



    Trailers (HD) (2.35:1) (3:22). Both French and international trailers are included. In my view, they reveal too much, but then so does most of the film’s marketing.



    U.S. Trailer (HD) (2.35:1) (2:08). This trailer for the approximately 50 U.S. markets in which the film played features reviewer quotes and is both more interesting and more mysterious.



    Unused Trailers (HD) (2.35:1) (5:20). Three different approaches. All of them probably sounded good on paper, but none conveys a good sense of the film.



    VFX (HD) (2.35:1) (11:09). This selection of moments from the film overlaid with CG models, scene extensions and tracking scans is intended to convey a sense of just how elaborate and pervasive the film’s visual effects really are. It’s not as well organized or neatly laid out as similar presentations I’ve seen for big-budget Hollywood films, but it accomplishes its purpose.



    Vortex (HD) (2.35:1) (5:32). Without giving anything away, this is a separate presentation of a key visual effect.



    DMT (HD) (2.35:1) (2:11). A portion of Oscar’s 2001-inspired “trip”, which can be played on continuous loop for those who are so inclined.



    Posters. About a dozen are included. Like the film itself, the posters are distinctive.



    Other MPI Titles. At startup the disc plays trailers in standard definition, enhanced for 16:9, for Map of the Souls of Tokyo, Inspector Bellamy and Unmade Beds. These are not otherwise available from the “Bonus” menu.




    In Conclusion:



    I’ve only seen Enter the Void once in its entirety, and one viewing isn’t enough to take in something this strange and distinctive. I’m not prepared to say something that serves as a conclusion when I feel like I’m just getting started. Noé has said that filmmaking is “trying to put your dreams on a flat screen outside of your brain” and that “cinema is meant to replace the need of dreaming”. (New York Times, Sept. 16, 2010). Here’s a preview of the dream from the U.S. trailer, which I think is the best of them:









    Equipment used for this review:



    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)


    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)


    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough


    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier


    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears


    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center


    SVS SB12-Plus sub
     
  2. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    Has anyone else watched this yet? I watched about 45 minutes on Netflix then decided to look at the time and it is the 143 min version so I put it in my Q. Too bad it's a long wait right now I want to see the rest of this movie. It Really sucks you in.
     
  3. Ron-P

    Ron-P Producer

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    It's in my Q as well. Not sure when I'll get it but I look forward to the day I do. I saw Irréversible and enjoyed it, but it's a film I can only sit though once.
     

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