This week’s Profile post is focusing on the Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé. Born in Buenos Aries, Noé has made three feature films in France, as well as a few short films and other minor projects. After graduating from film school in France, he took inspiration from his favorite filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick and Austrian minimalist director Gerald Kargl.
His earliest major project was a 40-minute short film called Carne, released in the early 90s, following the story of a butcher who is jailed for killing a man he wrongly believed raped his daughter. With his first feature film, I Stand Alone, he continued the story of the Butcher, concerning the events that befall him post-Carne, as he attempts to seek out his estranged daughter and reconnect with society. However, he is unable to find solace because of his nihilistic, spiteful attitude toward society and his raging misogynistic and homophobic behavior, as well as an insatiable need to commit vicious violence. The violence featured in his first film was controversial and explicit, but it was nothing compared to what was to come.
In 2002, he released Irreversible, a dizzying experiment and exercise in graphic sex and violence. One of my favorite films of all time, the scenes are all presented in reverse chronological order, a la Memento, evoking a poetic mixture of sadness, extreme violence and depression. Featuring a nine-minute rape/beating scene as well as an extended sequence in which a man’s head is bashed in with a fire extinguisher while a standing crowd pleasure themselves to the sight of it, the movie doesn’t rely solely on violence to make the audience feel sick. He also uses low-frequency noise in the soundtrack, which is inaudible to the human ear but inducing strong waves of nausea and sickness. This is part of the reason many people at the original screening either fainted, vomited or walked out.
However, despite Irreversible being arguably his best film, it is his latest film, 2009’s Enter the Void, that he considers his masterpiece. Based on an experience Noé had with under the influence of LSD, it follows a young drug dealer who is murdered in a Japanese nightclub and watches over his sister on the streets of Tokyo as an invisible ghost. Many of the scenes of the film are from the protagonist’s POV, and though many have cursed the movie as being slow, boring and uneventful, I like to think of it as one of the most creative and visually stunning films of recent times. If only Avatar hadn’t been released, and perhaps Noé might have got some credit for his special effects achievements.
Gaspar Noé’s films have been accepted as members of a special genre of French cinema called the New French Extremity, which calls for movies with scenes of extreme or explicit sex or violence, both of which Noé has abundantly in all three of his films. He is a talented filmmaker, but his films certainly aren’t for all audiences. Some have grown tired of his excessive uses of incredibly vivid sex scenes (such as the unforgettable scene in Enter the Void in which we see a CGI penis penetrating a vagina, with the camera placed inside the CGI vagina), and the achingly unforgettable violence (don’t say you didn’t jump or scream when Le Tenia smacked Monica Bellucci’s face against the concrete in Irreversible). But I praise Noé. I think, even if he does use sex and violence rather excessively, he does it for a purpose. I’m proud to say I’ve seen and have given high praise to all three of his films; not so much Enter the Void, but certainly I Stand Alone and Irreversible, two absolutely brilliant analyses of the psychosis that can arise under the stress and tension of violence. Gaspar Noé is one of the most important European filmmakers of the last fifteen years.