With the latest movie by Gaspar Noe`, Climax, about to be distributed in certain countries and to hit selected theatres in others, I thought it would have been a good idea to cover the directors’ previous work in an article that, in my intentions, will be nothing more than a way to help you discover one of the greatest filmmakers of all time… and the guy who wrote and directed some of my favourite films.
Although this filmmaker has quite a dedicated fanbase and many cinema buffs know him very well, there’s still a majority of people who haven’t got a clue about who he is. So, who is Gaspar Noe`? In short, he’s an Argentinian-born, French-raised, filmmaker who directed 22 short movies often about taboo topics; he’s also worked on documentaries, TV series and other things, always showing an astounding versatility. In fact, in his 5 feature-length films he worked as director, writer, editor, producer and often as cinematographer, as well.
Since talking about the entire filmography of Noe` would require a 100-page-long article, I decided to focus only on his feature-length films: besides the upcoming Climax, he’s responsible for Seul Contre Tous (1998), Irreversible (2002), Enter the Void (2009) and Love (2015). Before we start, let me make clear that, although all of his movies can be considered controversial, confronting or even disturbing, only a few of them have horror elements in them, which means that for the first time on this website I will review movies that don’t belong to the horror realm. Let’s see how that goes…
Now, without further ado, let’s check Gaspar’s movies in chronological order.
Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone, drama/thriller, 1998) – based on the short movie Carne the director made a few years prior, I Stand Alone follows a guy simply referred to as The Butcher: he’s done some time in jail after beating up the guy who tried to seduce his teenage mentally-handicapped daughter, but now he’s free and wants a fresh start. However, when his mistress fails to provide him with the new butcher shop she promised him, The Butcher decides to leave Lille for Paris, where he hopes to find his daughter and reconnect with her after having abandoned her in an insane asylum. This film is extremely hard to sit through for three reasons: it’s bleak and depressing as hell; there’s little to no dialogue (most of the narration comes from The Butcher’s thoughts and monologues in form a voice over); there’s a considerable amount of edgy content consisting of gruesome scenes, sexually explicit imagery, very strong images.
In light of this, it might be weird to say but I do truly love I Stand Alone. In fact, this is probably my favourite movie by Gaspar Noe` and, without a doubt, one of my favourite films. The slow pace, in combination with the 16mm film and the anamorphic format, visually conveys the gritty look that so perfectly fits and improves the story. I see this movie as a modern version of the 60s French Neo-Realism that leaves me with a certain feeling of both melancholy and extreme sadness. The realistic ‘fight scenes’ – which, in actuality, just show The Butcher being an awful human being who’s abusive towards men and women alike – elevate the sense of hopelessness in the movie, making it in turn quite a confronting watch.
Even the monologues and the way The Butcher does the simplest day-to-day tasks perfectly show the descent into failure and depression in a bleak way I haven’t seen in any other picture. Although here the story and its main characters are what matters (whereas in other Gaspar Noe`s movies the importance of visuals takes over), look and sound are fundamental in building a dark world where the self-destruction of a person expands into the obliteration of the entire setting.
Nonetheless, I Stand Alone has some objective flaws such as a few continuity errors that revolve around locations and the age of the main character – in one scene he claims to be 50-years-old but, considering he was born in 1939 and the movie takes place in 1980, he should actually be 40-years-old. These issues mean that I can’t give the movie a perfect 10/10 grade, but I do really love it much more than grades can represent.
If you’re down for a bleak drama that will most likely have you feeling depressed and uncomfortable, I Stand Alone is not to be missed!
Seul Contre Tous 9/10
Irreversible (drama/thriller/horror, 2002) – Even if you’re unfamiliar with Gaspar Noe`, there’s still a chance you’ve seen or at least heard of this film. Why? Because Irreversible is one of the most infamous and celebrated ‘rape and revenge’ movies ever made, one that even got nominated for best film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival… quite an achievement for such a genre flick. Basically, this film follows Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and two criminals who seek revenge against the man that brutally raped and abused his girlfriend Alex (Monica Bellucci… the most beautiful Italian woman who’s ever lived, by the way). Except that the story here unfolds entirely in reverse-chronological order! Therefore, the audience experiences the revenge part at the beginning and it’s subjected to a 10-minute-long, vile, rape scene at the end.
What could be considered a gimmick to showcase Noe`s artistry at crafting a meticulously detailed and spotless cinematography, complete with stunning visuals and insanely genuine sound-design, in actuality works in favour of the story and the impact the movie intends to have: ‘rape and revenge’ movies make the viewer feel uncomfortable but give them a somewhat satisfying ending, which generally culminates with the culprits getting what they deserve. In Irreversible, on the contrary, you’re left with a nauseating, sick feeling of impotence and helplessness.
The graphic nature of this picture, in combination with its nihilistic ending that you know it’s coming but have no way to hope for a positive scenario, confirms the status of undisputed classic it’s gained throughout the last 17 years. Irreversible can also be seen as an exploration of the inevitable nature of cause and effect, of how time destroys everything in its path. That said, for once I prefer to look at this movie as just a terrific example of ‘rape and revenge’ tale that’s original, gritty, nihilistic, violent, dark, gut-wrenching all at once. If you’re into this kind of movies, do yourself a favour and watch it now if you haven’t already.
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Enter the Void (drama/fantasy, 2009) – Let me say, right off the bat, that this is my least favourite amongst the films of Gaspar Noe`. I know that many fans of this filmmaker will disagree with me and might even leave some silly comment a la “you didn’t get it”, but hopefully I’ll be able to explain why Enter the Void is the weakest entrance in Noe`s filmography.
We follow a French drug dealer living in Tokyo, who’s betrayed by his best friend and killed in a drug deal. This is not a spoiler, as it happens early on in the movie: after the guy is killed, we follow his out-of-body experience during a 142-minute-long trip made of hallucinogenic imageries and surreal sequences. In terms of cinematography and camera-work, Enter the Void is the best film I have ever seen. Period. The sheer ambition that you can find in every single shot and camera movement is jaw-dropping: even the POV shots are extremely realistic due to the way the camera turns on and off as the characters blink. Seriously, even if I studied cinema and I read books on cinematography every now and then, I still have no idea how certain scenes were filmed (as the CGI is basically non-existent in the movie). During the first 90 minutes or so, the viewer is assaulted by the best visual storytelling ever put to film, one that consists of dramatic, scary, absurd, surreal sequences alike.
You might wonder why I said I didn’t like this movie as much, since I’m basically only praising it so far. Well, the thing is that, with a 142-minute-long runtime, after a while everything becomes repetitive and (please don’t shoot me) a little boring. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate movies purely based on how they look (A Cure for Wellness and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders come to mind), but if there’s no substance I can make it only that far. Had Enter the Void been one hour shorter, I would undoubtedly consider it among my favourite films.
Besides the runtime, the story itself and its meaning are quite superficial: according to an interview with Den of the Geek, Gaspar Noe` explained Enter the Void with these words:
“I read books on reincarnation and many books about out-of-body experiences. Actually, the movie is not so much about reincarnation. It’s more about someone who gets shot while on acid and DMT [Dimethyltryptamine] and trips out about his own death and dreams, about his soul escaping from his flesh, because he wants to keep this promise to his sister that he’ll never leave her, even after death”.
First of all, if that’s the only meaning of the movie, many things wouldn’t add up. Secondly, such a simple concept in a film by Gaspar Noe` can only be an excuse to showcase some artsy cinematography. I don’t mean that in a negative way: I love artsy cinematography… as long as it serves a purpose or, at least, as long as it’s contained in a fairly decent running time.
Still, if you’re a cinema enthusiast you shouldn’t miss this one out either.
Enter the Void 7/10
Love (drama/romance/erotic, 2015) – “Love has all been done before”, sings Jade Bird. Well, as much as I adore her music, she probably hasn’t seen the version of love depicted in this film by our beloved Gaspar. Often regarded as the least memorable movie by the French/Argentinian filmmaker, I’m actually very fond of this film, as it’s probably one of my favourite romance movies in recent years (although I must admit I’m not an expert of this specific genre).
The story, which is told through the constant use of flashbacks and flashforwards, revolves around Murphy, an American cinema school student who lives in Paris. He’s had a French girlfriend, Electra, for two years: in the movie we get to experience how their relationship ended, how that affected both Murphy’s and Electra’s life.
Love is extremely controversial mostly due to its graphic depiction of sex: when Murphy and Electra, early on in the film, engage in a threesome with teenage Danish girl Omi to save their relationship, the sex scene is really in-your-face, with the camera not shying away from anything. Literally. The most disturbing aspect of the film, however, is when – a few years after this events that caused Electra to break up with Murphy – Murphy is told his ex-girlfriend has disappeared and starts to remember the two years he spent with her. The viewer is, then, subjected to experiencing a two-year-long relationship fuelled by drug abuse, violence, rough sex. There are some tender moments nonetheless, but they’re quite scattered throughout.
This film reminded me quite a bit of Larry Clark’s work (specifically Kids, Bully and Ken Park), so if you like the movies by photographer-turned-filmmaker Larry Clark, you should definitely give Love a chance (to paraphrase that Beetles’ famous song).
Despite lacking in strong performances and interesting cinematography, I appreciate this movie for the uncomfortable feeling it leaves me with. Also, it’s quite intriguing and scary at the same time to see how a person could consider an abuse/devastating relationship to be true love. I think Love is a really powerful film, which features powerful messages about relationships, search of happiness and regret.
Sex and nudity in mainstream cinema are often considered taboo subjects and I personally agree they’re sometimes used purely for shock value, but in Love they’re integral to the story and help building up characters and emotions: without the graphic and disturbing depiction of sex, Love would probably have a third of its actual impact. An impact that gets to its climax at the end of the film, which is something you really need to see for yourself. Needless to say, I’d recommend this movie as well.
I really hope you guys liked this little journey through the filmography of Gaspar Noe`; I know this article might seem very long, but it only scratches the surface of the work of one of my all-time favourite filmmakers. There are so many more things I would like to say, but then the article will turn into a book, so I’d rather have discussions in the comment section with those of you who’re familiar with this director or want to know more about his films.
Gaspar Noe`s new movie, Climax, will hit theatres soon (even though it’ll have a limited release) and it’s considered to be his most horror-related one so far: it all sounds great to me, bring it on!
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