Gaspar Noé

Gaspar Noé

In 1991, the 40-minute short film Carne premiered at Cannes International Critics Week and won first prize in its category. Gaspar Noé’s third film openly flaunted a repertoire of existential pessimism - with the odd allusion to redemption, at best unsettling but more often scandalizing the spectator, despite having been forewarned. The Franco-Argentine director’s knife had struck the bone, deftly, efficiently.

The film’s strong images and unsavory language, the schematism of its situations and characters and its to-the-point intertitles all revealed an innate gift for provoking audiences, one he was to exploit to the full in his following films. Like his first feature, Seul contre tous, a film permeated by sexual and emotional violence in which Philippe Nahon plays the butcher once again, this time one closer to bottoming out. More than anything, the character’s “ordinary fascism” points the finger at a society that imposes a “vile trade” of bodies and relationships on us, from which there is no escape, bar death.

Nahon the butcher reappears in a cameo role in Noé’s second feature, Irréversible, a dark film that grapples in the bowels of evil, but that is conceived as a journey of sorts to the beginning, to the origin. Noé’s universe, while recognizable, admits variations. Moments of mysticism take the edge off its rawness. The need for love and emotional ties, even beyond death, can also be seen in Enter the Void and Love.

Experimentation with stylistic recourses, narrative structures and new technologies, from the back-to-front storyline of Irréversible and the hypnotic parade of images in Enter the Void to the use of 3D in Love speak of a director who doesn’t merely rely on the taboo to his needle his audiences, but who milks the possibilities of what can be shown on the screen and employs every means of doing so at his disposal, including technology. Using cranes and a varied menu of frames and camera angles, Enter the Void allows us to visualize a disembodied soul floating over a Tokyo hypertrophied precisely by technology. By putting 3D techniques to the service of a film fueled by sexual passion, the director forces a technical tool to create new experiences.

More than an enfant terrible who gets a kick out of impressing the bourgeoisie (épater les bourgeois), two French myths par excellence, Noé encourages us to question the habitual decorum of respectable cinema.

Explicit violence and sexuality are two recurring themes in his films, associating Noé with a broader trend in contemporary cinema, except that the message here seems to be that there is a price to be paid for seeing it all, and that is to have our strongest beliefs, our sense of morality, our very way of life shaken to the core. His films are an invitation to take that risqué, but very necessary step into the void.

Pedro Adrián Zuluaga