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Enter The Void

Year: 2009
Production Co: Fidélité Films
Director: Gaspar Noe
Writer: Gaspar Noe
Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta

Enter the Void is the kind of movie a kid bought up on Star Wars and blockbusters never thinks he or she will like, but at a certain point you let go of your preconceptions about what a movie can be and it's freeing, letting you understand and enjoy something this unique.

It also doesn't hurt that I am (to the extent one can be) a fan of Gaspar Noe after the experience of and construction behind Irreversible – it's certainly not a film you enjoy in the traditional sense.

I'm also a little frustrated writing about Enter The Void because there's so much in it to remember, appreciate and respond to. With so many movies in the world I so rarely watch anything twice except for favourite old movies, but of the indie/arthouse movies there are, this is certainly one I'd revisit.

To talk about the essential premise – a young man's spirit watching the world after he dies and leaves his body – doesn't even begin to cover the story, visual artfulness and a cinematic language you've never seen before which Noe uses to build the whole thing.

The entire story is told from the point of view of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) in a very literal sense – when he's alive the camera is right over his shoulder as he goes about his life in contemporary Tokyo. Watching himself in the bathroom mirror as he washes his own face isn't a big deal narratively and it's not a flashy scene, but it's only later you start to marvel about how it was put together technically.

Soft-spoken and slight, Oscar's a drug dealer who lives with his pretty sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta). Aspects of their backstory unfold organically through both snippets and whole scenes scattered throughout the film, such as the one that Oscar and Linda are essentially alone in the world. Their loving parents died in a car crash that we see several times in one of the genuinely upsetting scenes, their mother and father slumped and bloody in the front while the toddler-aged Linda screams in pain and fear in the back seat.

When we meet the pair at the beginning Linda's convinced Oscar's going to become a junkie off his own supply, but he assures her he's fine and she goes off to work. A protracted sequence of Oscar getting high gives you the first taste of Noe's sensibility when it comes to visuals and pacing – we see the swirling colours and patterns Oscar sees inside his head on his trip for a good five minutes.

But a friend shows up telling Oscar about a deal at a nearby club so we follow them, Oscar meeting another associate who we later learn has ratted him and his operation out. The cops bust into the place, and it's when Oscar has run to the men's room and locked himself in a cubicle to flush his stash that they shoot him dead through the toilet door.

From then on the camera itself is Oscar, his spirit drifting through walls and across the city to see his sister at work as a stripper and his former friends and associates dealing with the aftermath of the bust and his death.

The film portrays Oscar flying over Tokyo looking down on the neon-tinged and pulsating city and takes its time doing so to such an extent you can tell it's a long movie - but you're still never bored.

Using live sets and CGI to show Oscar's flight around Tokyo and the clubs, homes and drug dens he peers in on, it tells the continuing story of Oscar and Linda's pact as children. With only each other left after their parents' deaths they've promised never to leave each other, but they were separated anyway and sent to foster homes, and when Oscar found himself as a young man in Tokyo he resolved to make enough money to send for the sister he loves so much and fulfill his promise.

Dealing in drugs was his method of choice, but instead it's got him wrapped up with an ex-pat community of suppliers and users, some of whom are all too ready to stab him in the back.

There's hardly any talking at all for the last hour as Oscar's spirit flies over the streets and people, but somehow the script still manages to tell the story even without words, where lesser directors (or ones less interested in narrative than image) would just use the time to showboat.

The soundtrack and music design are off-kilter (rather than just trying to upset you like they did in Irreversible) from the opening credits sequence onward, and the fever-dream portrayal of Tokyo is lurid, grimy and comic-book all at once.

I can't put enough words on a page to describe how visceral the experience was in watching the film, or how seamlessly it told an ultimately straightforward story. Even though there were probably 45 minutes in total with nothing happening to advance the plot, the tale of family and love was as moving as any Hollywood drama.

There's plenty of sex and subplots/motifs about Tibetan philosophy and the consciousness-expanding powers of drugs, and what must be one of the most unique points of view – literally and artistically – that you've ever seen on a screen.

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