Earning himself a reputation as the enfant terrible of French cinema, Gaspar Noé follows his critically acclaimed Irréversible with his latest film, Enter the Void.
Earning himself a reputation as the enfant terrible of French cinema, Gaspar Noé follows his critically acclaimed Irréversible with his latest film, Enter the Void, a movie told from the perspective of a recently killed drug dealer who watches over his sister from the afterlife. Gaspar talks to Matt Looker.
Enter the Void contains several scenes involving sex and drug use, but it also explores the afterlife. Is the film intentionally provocative or does it include a hidden message about life and death as well?
I was trying to make a funny game, a rollercoaster where people would enjoy getting on – not so much with emotions but by playing with their perception and presenting an altered state of consciousness. The origins of this project started with me wanting to make a movie that would look like what I feel when I’m stoned, on mushrooms, LSD or DMT.
How did you go about creating those vibrant hallucination scenes?
For the first DMT scene, I thought it should have some very sharp colours, like it was made out of neon light, like in the movie Tron; everything is very bright on a black background. That’s the kind of vision you have when you smoke DMT. But, when it comes to the shapes, it’s weird because, when you do DMT, you see hexagons. I don’t know why the brain creates hexagons instead of octagons or ovals. So we tried to make the screen full of very bight colours that were made of such shapes. Those were actually the most risky scenes in the whole movie because it is very easy for them to end up looking like simple screensavers – we worked a lot on those so that the audience wouldn’t feel like they were watching their laptop.
Do you think this kind of sensory experience is on a par with 3D films like Avatar in terms of being an immersive film that engages people?
Yeah, but Avatar is a much richer and far more ambitious film. I think that the perfect audience for this movie is 17-23 year olds. I would have loved to see a psychedelic movie like this when I was 16 and started experimenting with mushrooms.
Why did you choose to shoot the film with the camera acting as Oscar’s eyes?
I’m always annoyed by movies where they portray a psychedelic experience in which you have the vision and then you have a close-up of the guy, or sometimes you have the guy inside their vision. Even in 2001: A Space Odyssey, although I love and was blown away by the stargate sequence, I’m kind of puzzled by why Kubrick needed to include the face of the astronaut because, when I hallucinate, I don’t see myself. So I thought the whole movie could work better if the whole thing was seen through his eyes.
Did you set the movie in Japan purely for aesthetic reasons?
I just really wanted to have that life experience. I’ve been living in France for the past 3 years and Japan is the only place in the world I would consider moving to.
All of your films tend to steer away from conventional narrative – does this help in telling your stories?
Traditional narrative is conventional and conventional is boring. When I watch TV and movies, I get bored by the actors. I’m bored when I feel that the dialogue has been learnt and doesn’t come out naturally. So yeah, if you can do something unconventional but natural, it’s better. People are getting more and more bored by cinema because there are so many movies coming on TV, so you have to find your own ways to create an emotion in the audience that makes their mind feel fresh.
Your movies are known for being quite extreme, but there is always a tenderness in the relationship between your characters. Do you wish people would see past your reputation and have a deeper appreciation of your films?
I am very much obsessed with some aspects of nature that are considered controversial by other people, like sex, so I know from the beginning that my movies are going to have an 18 rating. But it’s not about being controversial, it’s just: how much time do I want to spend dedicated to a movie where the subject matter is conventional?
One contentious element of Enter the Void is the incestuous nature of the relationship between Oscar and his sister Linda. Why was that important to the story?
Actually, that was not in the script. I had to make the main characters in the movie a couple or brother and sister, but because I wanted them to have an original trauma together [their parents died in a car crash when they were very young], it was much better to have them as a brother and sister. Most of the incestuous moments came from Paz de la Huerta’s character [Linda] on the set. She’s very transgressive and she brought that approach to the film. It gave another layer of trouble or complexity to the story – it was not meant to be that way but it made sense for the movie.
There always strong sexual themes in your work. Do you ever feel like you are playing out your fantasies in your films?
In a personal movie, you can include all your dreams, all your desires and all your fears. This movie is quite long so you can have a big panorama of my obsessions – all the best and worst ones.
Do you feel like you have found your niche as a filmmaker or are there other kinds of films you would like to make?
I can’t tell you exactly what I’m shooting next, but I wouldn’t mind starting a documentary, like Lake of Fire by Tony Kaye. It’s a movie about the pro-choice and pro-life groups in America. He did this very personal documentary, which he made over a long period – I think it took him maybe two years to finish it, but that documentary is amazing.