- 01 Nov 10
Sex, drugs, extreme violence - no, it’s not the latest from the Fianna Fail think-in, it’s the new film from controversial French director Gaspar Noe. He talks to Tara Brady about being the most divisive filmmaker of his generation
More than a decade has passed since film audiences walked out of Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone feeling shaken to the core. A fearsome, uncompromising portrait of rage, incest and slaughter, the film seemed to codify the New French Extremity, a loose subset of trangressive Gallic movies including Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s Baise-moi, Christophe Honoré’s Ma mère, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day, and Patrice Chereau’s Intimacy.
The Argentine-born, French-based director seems bemused by the label: “Well, I am not competing with other French directors,” he says. “But it is obviously not true that the French are more extreme than the Germans or the Danish or whoever. But if somebody makes a movie that is very violent after Irreversible then they will compare it to my movie. That’s how it is.”
Ah, yes. Irreversible. Who could forget M. Noé’s shocking 2002 film and its gruelling nine-minute rape sequence? Admired by its defenders and vilified by spokespersons hailing from the ‘moral majority’, the film has rarely been equalled in terms of sheer visceral horror.
“One day I met a guy and he said because of your movie I could not have sex with my wife for a whole month,” says the filmmaker. “I heard stories from girls that they wouldn’t tell to their own husbands – stories of rape. Also from men too – raped by their fathers. Movies can make people say things they wouldn’t otherwise say. Sometimes that’s more worrying than a bad comment about a film. You know what your movie is like, after all. But that’s disturbing. There can be anguish in my films. They are bloody. You feel danger. You are in the dark – like in the womb before you come to the light.”
The director’s latest effort, Enter The Void, continues the trend. Set against a lurid Tokyo backdrop, the film concerns Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a 20 year-old drug dealer and his promiscuous stripper sister, Linda. Neither of the siblings approves of the other’s life choices though there are strong hints of a previous incestuous relationship between them. When Oscar is killed, the movie continues from his perspective as a kind of graphic, claustrophobic riposte of The Lovely Bones. Think Lady In The Lake but with full-frontal nudity and a penis-eye view of intimate lady parts.
“There were several things that drew me to this project,” says Noé. “One was that I acquired some mushrooms once and for a whole day I felt really weird. I felt that I could read the future and so on. And I turned on the TV and there is Lady In The Lake, which is all shot through his eyes. I thought it would be great to one day portray my day that way. It would be amazing to see through the eyes of a man who was stoned – to see it through his mind.”
In common with the rest of the 46 year-old’s oeuvre, Stanley Kubrick looms large as a stylistic influence. If the later romantic parts of Irreversible are the film that Eyes Wide Shut should have been, Enter The Void is Noé’s very own 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“Yes”, he says. “I would think that the movie that impressed me most as a child was 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was not only the dramatic shots. I saw it first when I was seven or eight. I felt I had visions during that movie which have been in my dreams every since. I felt stoned. When something overwhelms you like that, then later in life you try to get control over that thing. That’s why maybe years later I wanted to become a film director. I wanted to become like The Wizard of Oz. There are many movies that I really admire: Un Chien Andalou, Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome. In the case of my movie I was inspired by those movies, but my obsessions are very different. They have to be.”
A softly spoken philosophical fellow, it’s almost impossible to reconcile the mild mannered Gaspar Noé with his extreme cinematic milieu. Born in Buenos Aires in 1967, the son of the celebrated Argentine painter Luis Felipe Noé would move to New York at the age of two, when his father was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. The family returned to Argentina when young Gaspar was seven, then on to Paris shortly after his fourteenth birthday. His interest in film studies began to take form when he attended École Nationale Supérieur Louis Lumière leading to Carne, his first award-winning short in 1991. What is there, I wonder, in these innocuous biographical details that created Gaspar Noé, the uncompromising artist?
“As you say I grew up in Europe then my parents moved to Argentina when I was 12,” he says. “The shifting point was that my parents had to educate me at home for political reasons. This was at a time when there were a lot of kidnappings and torture and terrible things. As a result I have never quite trusted in government. I don’t like going to police stations. I think my personal culture is still Argentinean. There is something there that is unique. Maybe it is not as strong as say Japanese culture, which is so much older. But it is a force. My father lives there. I love going there. But I guess I always feel like an outsider when I go there.”
Is that true of his adopted home as well?
“Yes”, he says. “I like this thing of being an outsider. You don’t really understand the rules of a culture so you are more in danger than those who are insiders. An outsider has more of a clear vision. But at the same time you are not technically part of the culture. Like when I went to Japan I really got lost. It’s not like it is in France. In Japan nobody will pick up calls when they are working. Those are small things, but they matter.”
Ever the outsider, he doesn’t see his films as others do. They are not, he says, merely intended to shock: they are intended to reflect the darker aspects of humanity.
“I am sure that if I did a horror movie it would end up being more of a psychological horror,” he says. “Then again, if I did a proper erotic movie it would be a more sentimental movie; it would be more of a love movie. If you make a drama and you have a gun then it doesn’t have the significance it would have if it were in Taxi Driver. If I did a horror movie it would be about someone losing control of his mind. That would be the horror. A war movie is the ultimate vision of horror. When everything turns into barbarism that’s the real horror. When you make a movie it is really like playing a game – you are playing a game with the actors, the crew. Then you soon realise that the next game is going to be with the audience. With a movie you make a lot of friends. You make a lot of enemies. It’s like life that way.”
Is this, I wonder, what cinema must be? Does he still watch films from other, less traumatising directors?
“I mostly watch documentaries. But among the films that I loved recently were Antichrist by Lars von Trier and Life During Wartime by Todd Solondz. I have recently been rediscovering films by Nagisa Oshima, erotic films like In The Realm Of The Senses.”
We should have known he wasn’t kicking back with a DVD of The Goonies. Don’t ever change, Monsieur….
Enter The Void opens September 24