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Enter the Void -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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CANNES -- No one ever said that in-your-face French director Gaspar Noe's previous film, "Irreversible" (2002), was a walk in the park. Featuring a sometimes violent but also often loving narrative told backward toward a heartbreaking innocence that was both its beginning and its ending (and that constituted the very proof of the film's talismanic motto, "Time destroys all things") -- as well as the notorious nine-minute anal rape scene of Monica Bellucci -- it greatly divided audiences.

With "Enter the Void," unfortunately, Noe has shown that while remaining just as self-consciously controversial, he has succumbed to the many unfounded rumors about his own brilliance. Opinion about this English-language film, however, is not likely to be divided.

It goes without saying that the film is violent, but its obsessive emphasis on sex and drugs -- to the point that most viewers are going to feel utterly bludgeoned by both -- makes it virtually unwatchable, especially at its unofficial "director's cut" length of 160 minutes. Commercial prospects seem remote, but its LSD and other drug-induced visual fireworks might ensure a long life as a cult film on DVD.

Oscar and Linda, whose parents were killed in a car crash when they were kids -- an accident that they witnessed -- have been finally reunited in Japan. Alas, Oscar has become a drug addict and dealer and Linda an exotic dancer with some extra-curricular activities on the side. Oscar is sleeping with his friend Alex's mother, and when Alex finds out, he contrives to get Oscar killed by the police in a raid on the club they frequent.

Amazingly, most of the story is told from the literal point of view of the deceased Oscar, using virtually the identical hand-held technique -- especially the spinning, stumbling-in-the-dark camera -- from "Irreversible." Noe purports to show us what happens after we die, and it turns out that very boring stuff is in store for us. The huge part of the story that is told in flashback has the camera right behind Oscar's head (so that, annoyingly, we rarely see his face); in the part of the story that happens after his death, all is shot from above, as from the POV of Oscar's hovering spirit. None of this contrived stuff is helped by the fact that Nathaniel Brown, who plays Oscar, is such a weak actor.

The worst part is that instead of cutting from one scene that the dead Oscar is observing to the next, Noe has decided to go through an elaborate kind of diving into light or black holes, followed by a camera that flies over buildings for several minutes in order to settle into the next location. This happens at least 20 or 30 times in the film, to the point that viewers will begin to long for the simple directness of a good old-fashioned cut.

Many flashbacks to the children's early trauma, along with other scenes, are unnecessarily repeated several times. The whole thing ends up presumably on a life-affirming note when virtually every character in the film -- even poor Oscar, now kind of enabled through the visual perspective of a friend to consummate his unspoken but obvious incestuous desires for his sister -- gets it on, and with relish. Couples coupling in fascinatingly diverse ways are shown over and over, and the whole thing ends in a kind of apocalyptic and ultra-silly sperm-meets-egg apotheosis that seems shot by what one wag of a critic later labeled a "vagina-cam."

It also is suggested that Oscar's spirit crashes into a baby named Oscar in a plane flying overhead, presumably leading to his reincarnation.

Section: In Competition

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Sales: Wild Bunch
Production company: Fidelite Films
Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz De La Huerta, Cyril Roy, Emily Alyn Lind, Jesse Kuhn
Director: Gaspar Noe
Screenwriter: Gaspar Noe
Director of photography: Benoit Debie
Production designer: Marc Caro, Kikuo Ohta, Jean Carriere
Music: Thomas Bangalter
Special Effects: Pierre Buffin
Editor: Gaspar Noe, Marc Boucrot, Jerome Pesnel
No rating, 160 minutes