Cannes '09: Day Ten

 

Okay, I see where I goofed now. Easily remedied for next year. “Won’t somebody please show up with a film that’s truly bold and audacious and visionary and unprecedented?” I’ll once again plead. But from now on, I’ll make sure to add “and not utterly stoopid.”

In terms of sheer mindblowing formal astonishment, Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void is the movie I’ve been waiting for the entire festival. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, because you may have seen Noé’s Irreversible, which he now claims amounted to an elaborate test run for this project. I can believe it, even though—as sometimes happens—the sketch turned out superior to the actual canvas.

Running nearly three hours even in the incomplete form shown here, Enter the Void unfolds almost entirely from the disembodied first-person POV of a young American drug dealer, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), who’s shot and killed in a Tokyo club restroom early in the movie. Once he keels over, the camera, representing his freed spirit, gallivants all over both space and time, following Oscar’s beloved sister (Paz de la Huerta) and best friend (Cyril Roy) as they work through their grief, run from the cops, have crazy explicit sex that would be even more explicit were there not neon love rays emanating from their genital orifices (truly), etc. Basically, the entire movie is shot like Irreversible’s brief scene transitions, with the camera constantly hurtling, swooping, diving through solid matter—at one point Noé sends us high into the sky and then into a moving plane—or simply floating above people’s heads like an impotent deity. There’s also a lengthy multiple-flashback sequence, corresponding structurally and thematically to Irreversible’s infamous rape scene, during which Noé locks the camera down and shoots from over Oscar’s shoulder (at various ages, in various locales, often for just a second or two at a time), employing quick flash cuts that make the whole thing resemble the “life flashing before your eyes” cliché reimagined as a morbid slide show; I found this nearly hour-long tour de force, which relies on basic compositional symmetry for its power, even more masterful than the vertiginous moving camerawork that bookends it.

If only the movie’s moronic content didn’t keep distracting you from its exhilarating form. Irreversible’s dare-you-to-watch extremity has an unfortunate (if understandable) tendency to distract people from its three superb central performances and its genuinely thought-provoking ideas; the film’s key scene, as I’ve argued for seven years now, is not the rape or the opening Rectum hunt or even the tender bedroom finale, but the lengthy Metro ride during which the characters animatedly debate the nature of desire. Enter the Void has no characters of interest, apart from Noé’s camera—which would be fine if his camera weren’t constantly observing bad actors delivering crappy improvised dialogue. (Brown and Roy are awkward non-pros, and Paz de la Huerta seems to get cast in movies solely because she’s willing to get naked at the drop of a lens cap.) The film’s ending, which I won’t spoil, comes across as silly and fatuous mostly because it’s so clumsily foreshadowed; I winced hard in the first five minutes, when Oscar asks his sister whether she’s ever read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, actually brandishing a copy for emphasis. Enter the Void gives us a thrilling ghost’s-eye view of Tokyo, but we’re stuck with the extra-corporeal form of a monotonous loser who spies exclusively on his equally tedious friends and relations. Can it be a great party, whatever the quality of the venue and the entertainment and the free booze, if there’s nobody there worth flirting with? Grade: B-

Speeding through the rest of the day, because the Void review is twice as long as I’d intended and I’m hoping to catch up with a couple of award winners this evening:

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: To his credit, Terry Gilliam does a fine job of spackling the enormous hole created by Heath Ledger’s sudden death during shooting; it’s quite easy to accept Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell as alternate forms of the same character, given that their scenes all take place in the titular fantasy world. Alas, that’s all Gilliam does well here. As in The Brothers Grimm, he mistakes hectic for antic, continually throwing whimsical images at the screen in the vain hope that something might stick. Really, the last place you want to see Gilliam take up residence is in a goddamn “Imaginarium”—his paeans to the power of unfettered dreaming work best when they’re tethered to some sort of grim, even nightmarish reality, as in Brazil, The Fisher King and even—it’s not as dire as people claim, really—Tideland. All that’s at stake in this film is the soul of a chipmunk-cheeked teenage girl, the subject of a wager between Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and the Devil, probably (Tom Waits). As the amnesiac everyman caught in the middle, Ledger can’t find much to do, I’m sorry to say; even if you see this film, keep thinking of the Joker as his swan song. Grade: C


Map of the Sounds of Tokyo: Prior to her unexpected selection for this year’s Competition, Spanish director Isabel Coixet had yet to make a film I could stomach all the way to the end. The maudlin My Life Without Me quickly became Your Film Without Me, and I turned off last year’s Elegy after 40 minutes, already bored with its overly grave mistranslation of Philip Roth’s subtly sardonic prose style. (The Secret Life of Words I skipped altogether.) Still, I was unprepared for the towering idiocy of this ill-fated romance between an expatriate Spaniard (Sergi López, floundering) who drove his Japanese wife to suicide and the preposterous hitwoman (Babel’s Rinko Kikuchi) hired by the dead woman’s grief-wracked father. Naturally, she falls for her hunky target immediately, and the rest of the film consists largely of inane chitchat alternating with clinical sex scenes, all of it overlaid with pretentious narration spoken by an elderly friend of the hitwoman’s, which “friend” seems to have no purpose in her life except to narrate events that he doesn’t witness and couldn’t possibly know about. (He’s also an expert in the titular sounds of Tokyo, rhapsodizing for minutes at a time about their beauty; I wonder whether anyone else noticed that during one of these soliloquies there’s an honest-to-goodness Night Ranger LP visible on a shelf behind him.) Not since 2004’s dismal The Life and Death of Peter Sellers has Cannes selected such an obvious hack job for its main event; I trust there was at least a hefty bribe involved. Grade: D+


Drag Me to Hell: This opens on Friday, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it since you’ll soon be inundated by proper reviews. As widely reported, it’s a return to Sam Raimi’s shlock-horror roots, replete with gross-out gags and devoid of any kind of subtlety; all you need to know about the plot is that it involves an ambitious bank teller whose designs on an assistant-manager position are hampered by a pesky Gypsy curse. Alison Lohman is no Bruce Campbell (though, amazingly, there’s one key shot in which she kind of looks like Bruce Campbell), but she’s totally game and the film as a whole is a dopey stylized good time. But you leave the theater on a higher note than that suggests, because the ending is sensational. I will say no more; do your best to avoid spoilers. Grade: B

Erratum: In yesterday’s post, I referred to the stop-motion feature A Town Called Panic as French. Its makers are in fact Belgian. Mon mauvais. I’ll lay the blame on French-not-Belgian (I’m pretty sure) actress Jeanne Balibar, who performs the voice of Horse’s love interest and was present onstage at the midnight screening I attended, thus confusing me.

Tomorrow is the awards ceremony; stop by here first for my picks and predictions.