Cambridge Film Festival Review: Enter The Void

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The Pitch: Ghost Trainspotting.

The Review: Gaspar Noé is a moviemaker who is not unaccustomed to controversy. But when your movies feature such extremes of human behaviour, with violence and immorality not uncommon, then you’d be a little disappointed not to generate some controversy. So in theory we should know what to expect from his latest, except no-one could be prepared for the assault on the senses that Noé has lined up, and that’s just the opening credits, a whirling flash of neon that will likely cause most viewers to develop either epilepsy, ADHD or both.

Once your mind has adjusted to the shock, we’re taken down several notches, for Enter The Void is a trip – one long trip in the mind of a drug-dealing teenager called Oscar, who’s wound up in Tokyo and is now deep into the drug culture and gets high the moment we see him. Events are played out from his first person perspective, but when Oscar is seemingly double crossed by a friend, he’s shot and killed. For mere mortal movies, this would be a problem, but this is merely the start of Oscar’s trip, as he then views the lives of those around him from his unique out-of-body perspective.

Thankfully, the script had shoe-horned in numerous references to a ‘Tibetan Book Of The Dead’ which conveniently describes the events to come – Tibetans are the go-to guys on death and the afterlife, it seems, as they’ve laid out a three act structure which Oscar conveniently follows, broadly consisting of floaty head trip, life flashing before your eyes and search for meaning in existence. We swap between the first and third person in perspective, but we are Oscar for the duration. This does make Enter The Void something to be experienced rather than enjoyed from a narrative perspective, but Noé remains a supreme visual stylist and there’s enough invention and trickery on display here to fuel a dozen smaller movies.

On the positive side this is a visual feast, ranging from the fractal dreamscapes of the initial trip to the visceral gut-punches of some later sequences – nothing quite at the level of Irreversible, but there are still some indelible moments and a couple of recurring motifs that will leave a firm impression. However, this is counterbalanced by the early heavy-handedness of the script, the generally unexceptional quality of the acting but more than anything else by the length. There’s a couple of versions around and I was “lucky” enough to see the longer – even the shorter, currently checking in at around two hours twenty, would be at least twenty minutes too long. It’s probably the last section that dwells too long, but frankly the best drug to make it through this would be a strong dose of caffeine. Noé’s provocative style continues, but on this evidence it’s as likely to prompt frustration as anything.

Why see it at the cinema: If you have any intention of seeing this, then you absolutely must see it inside a cinema. From the opening credits, you have to completely immerse yourself in the experience to give it any chance, and unless you have a 200 inch home cinema, there’s only one way to do that.

The Score: 6/10