Profile: Gaspar Noé

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.

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Posted on December 5, 2011, in Filmmakers, Movies, Profile and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Nice choice on a profile post. I have seen Irreversible and Enter the Void, and thought both were fascinating yet disturbing at the same time. I don’t really have a desire to see either movie again, but they are certainly ones I will never forget.

    Do you know if he has anything else in the works right now?

  2. I loved Irreversible, but was not a fan of Enter the Void…which i’m pretty sure you know already

  3. I HATED Irreversible with a rare passion (to give Noé credit, that ultra-low frequency tone he supposedly mixed into the soundtrack had the desired effect on me; for the first half hour I wanted to kill him and for the remainder of the film I was willing to settle for GBH against him. I’m not kidding either). The comparison with Memento is obvious but also kind of insulting to Memento, which not only did the “backwards” storytelling thing first, it also did so in far more interesting manner.

    Having said all of which, I did shell out for an import of the full-length Enter the Void because I thought I may as well watch the whole thing rather than the shortened version. I’m hoping that will convince me Noé has more going on than just vacuous shock tactics. The news that he wants to remake God Told Me To doesn’t thrill me, though. Still, I’m sure he’ll enjoy the possibilities of depicting alien sex…

  4. Nice spotlight post my friend.

    I do enjoy the read as I always feel educated afterwards. Excellent.

  5. I’ve only seen Enter the Void, which I thought was excellent and visually stunning. Haven’t seen Irreversible, but I’m not planning to either. I wouldn’t be able to stomach watching something like that.

  6. Completely agree with you that Noé is an invaluable director. I feel like you either love or hate his films (I proudly stand in the former), but regardless, there’s no question that he does new, bold things with film; always taboo, always provoking discussion.

    Great post.

    • Yeah, he is a pretty important filmmaker at the moment. His style is brilliant, as is his use of colour. Colour is very noticeable in all three of his films, especially the colour red in IRREVERSIBLE.

      People are often quick to dismiss Noè, but I think his films are important and interesting.

  7. Excellent post! I got to see Noe at a Q&A at the London Film Festival a couple of years back. Couldn’t believe how softly spoken and pleasant he seemed. Was expecting a bit of a nutcase. Irreversible is extremely powerful cinema. Glad I saw it on DVD as though I get the point of the long rape scene, I felt absolutely no need or desire to sit through it all so fast forwarded it. Not sure I would have been too happy to sit through it in the cinema. Brilliant use of the reverse narrative and Vincent Cassell is one of my fave actors. Enter the Void was a little slow but a dazzling experiment and I loved it. Shame to hear that it was CGI for the sex scene, I kinda hoped he put a real camera up there! Not sure whether to watch his old stuff, didn’t look like the style was quite as bold.

    • I skipped through the rape scene the second time I watched it, but I always feel guilty when I do that as Noé would’ve wanted me to sit through it.

      I love Vincent Cassel; he’s always brilliant with every film he’s in.

  8. Another great profile Tyler. Its contradictory because even though I sometimes hate watching his films, Noé is still one of my favorite directors for the way he always pushes the envelope and makes you see and feel those uncomfortable things. IRREVERSIBLE is the best example of that, I STAND ALONE is equally as deranged but not as deliberately nauseating and frankly I’ve never seen a film that made me want to try psychedelic drugs more than ENTER THE VOID.

    Whatever he decides to direct next, I know I will be lining up to watch it.

    • Yeah, his films do have a quality of insanity that’s difficult to shake off even when the film is over. I STAND ALONE for one would have to be one of the most unnerving films I’ve ever seen.

  9. Everything I like about Gaspar Noe:

    1:

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