Despite being the cinemaphile that I am, up until this point, I had never seen a movie that blurred the line between art and porn (or, for that matter, artsy and pretentious). For what it’s worth, this is a legit film, with a distinct plot line that supersedes the more shady elements of the film.

The film itself presents a contemplation of our existence when we die, something that the director, Gasper Noe, has wanted to tackle for years. He bases this story around the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an actual book (Wikipedia says it is, so I have to trust them on that). The short form of the book goes like this: when we die, we’re left to contemplate life as ghosts, both our whole life and the life that continues without us until such a time in which we become reincarnated in a new life, of which we do not know if it’s a new one or the same one all over again. It sounds depressing, and the main character, Oscar, remarks as such. This is, of course, what he says before he dies and becomes just that: a ghost that relives his life and the lives of those around him.

Just to note, both the trailer and the opening 30 minutes of the film explains the plot of the entire movie. I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything here when everything else has already done so.

Carrying on. Oscar, a drug dealer and recreational user of the same drugs, goes to the bar called The Void (there’s a neon light across from his Tokyo apartment which reads “Enter”, hence completing the title and adding emphasis to the plot), where he meets with a fellow drug dealer Victor. He mutters “Sorry” before cops come busting in. Oscar escapes to the bathroom, claims he has a gun to buy himself some time, but is shot and killed. From there he becomes a ghost, flying around the immediate aftermath of his death before entering into the past and reliving his life until his point of death.

Visually, the movie is incredible.  Tokyo, both the actual city and the various model sets they used to help in creating the city during some of the ghost sequences, is appropriately – and overly – bright and alive, with neon signs, tall modern buildings, and crowded streets during the night.  The city is as alive as the film is, and credit to the film makers for making Tokyo look that way.  Some of the special effects are good, given the small budget.  The CGI used in the beginning drug sequence works in creating the illusion of being stoned or high.

Story wise, the film is generally hit or miss.  The best part is during the flashback, when Oscar’s ghost goes back in time to when he was young and giving depth to all of the characters.  His parents died when he was young, with all four of them being part of a car accident.  Oscar and Linda were split up after that, sent to different foster homes, and not reunited again until she arrives in Tokyo after he pays for her ticket.  This was after he began his downward spiral into drug dealing and drug taking, and he eventually brings his sister into that world as well, introducing her to ecstasy and getting her completely bombed during one evening.  She works as a stripper after that night, and brother and sister go at each other over their respective lives (she hates his dealing, he hates her boss and boyfriend).  Oscar is trying to be the protective brother (they made a pact when they were young), but is confounded by some of the decisions he makes, one of which involves sleeping with Victor’s mother, and the fall out from that leads to Oscar’s death.

The final third of the film, after the flashback, is exceedingly boring.  The ghost flies around everywhere, visiting people as they move on from his death.  Everything is apparently vital to the movie, but it just drags, almost to the point where I started wondering what the point was (which I realized occurred at the end).  Two or three people walked out during this last third of the film (about a third of the people who showed up for the daytime showing), and I was close to joining them as well (and this was the closest I came to walking out of a movie since Greenberg earlier this year), especially in the last 10-15 minutes, which included a continual flyby of un-simulated sex acts and general debauchery, all wrapping up with a computerized orgasm.

This made me wonder about the dilemma introduced above.  The movie walks the line very finely, especially at the very end, but for the most part, it tries to present itself as art and does so successfully.  The camera work is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  Oscar is only seen twice really: when he looks at himself in the mirror and when he’s dead, and his ghost just stares at him before he goes off into the word.  The opening thirty minutes is actually a view from his eyes, complete with realistic eye blinking.  Nothing filmed is nauseating though, which is a plus.  The flashbacks, which has the ghost behind Oscar’s head, creates a sort of detachment, somehow emphasizing the ghost’s dilemma.  All in all, the camera work is great.

But those last fifteen minutes are definitely pretentious.  I don’t think Noe is out to shock people (apparently he’s done that before with previous movies), but he wants to tell his story, and he wants the freedom to do so, without anyone prohibiting him from doing so.  He succeeds for the most part.  I applaud him for the work.

B-

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