Gaspar Noé: The Enigma of a Controversialist

Gaspar Noé: The Enigma of a Controversialist

Photo Credits: JEREMY DANG / AGGIE

Despised by some, beloved by many

The scar that Gaspar Noé has left on the history of film is one of pain and beauty. He is the son of the famed Argentine painter, writer and intellectual Luis Felipe Noé. He is the father of the drug-induced, sexually charged, visceral films “Irréversible,” “Enter The Void,” “Love” and “Climax” and a friend of the atypical moviegoer. Noé has built a career around controversial films — most of them featuring literally explosive sex scenes, taboo relationships and drug frenzies. To watch a movie by Noé is to come as close to taking every drug on the planet, then having sex and then dying, all without taking a break from eating popcorn.

Noé’s films are the epitome of an NC-17 rating. And anyone can watch his most explicit movie “Love” on Netflix, not to be confused with the Judd Apatow’s Netflix original “Love.” Confusing the two would be an awkward mishap since Noé’s “Love” opens with a three-minute scene of a couple engaging in foreplay. This is not a typical Hollywood sex scene — we see everything.

“Love” centers around an American film student Murphy, his girlfriend Electra and their third-party, no-strings-attached lover Omi. They engage in threesomes, ultimately resulting in Omi getting pregnant. Since Omi is pro-life, the birth of her child, whom she names Gaspar, contributes to the nasty breakup of Murphy and Electra.

Although the plot of “Love” may seem relatively tranquil, the cinematography is far from it. One should anticipate full on sex scenes to ayahuasca-induced visions of sex, i.e. a fixed view camera angle of human organs engaging in the act. Being that the film is set on a non-linear timescape, it bounces back, forth, left and right from Murphy’s point of view as he traverses his most painful and pleasurable memories while in love. The audience is left in tears at the end of the film, feeling like they too have finished falling in and out love.

“[The] whole thing that makes the process of finding love [is] like an addiction to some kind of weird chemical that your brain is releasing, and you get addicted to serotonin and dopamine, endorphins,” Noé said to Indiewire. “I just wanted to portray sexual passion as much as possible.”

“Love” is focused on incising a visceral feeling within the audience — something connected to its title surely. With his other films that same gut feeling arises. With “Climax,” which is set around a group of dancers who take LSD and kill each other (but have sex first), the same sorts of camera angles and controversial moving images leave the viewer questioning whether or not they’ll be having inadvertent acid flashbacks once the movie ends. And with “Enter the Void,” which is based on a DMT experimentalist living and dying (then reliving as an aura) in Tokyo, the psychedelic visuals and first-person point of view shots depict what it’s like to live in the neon city while consuming the world’s most potent hallucinogenic drug.

For some viewers, these scenes may reveal the secrets of love, drugs and death without ever having to experience such chaos themselves. But for those who’ve lived these scenes firsthand in their own lives, these films can be triggering. Bouts of depression and anxiety may follow if the films mirror the viewers’ own personal experiences.

While speaking about “Love,” Murphy says about his filmmaking aspirations, “I want to make movies out of blood, sperm and tears […] the essence of life.” The audience can hear Noé’s voice projecting through Murphy’s in this scene, since his films are built upon the mortal platform of these fluids.

In one of his early films, “Carne,” he shoots his opening scenes within an operating slaughterhouse, showing the gruesome reality that takes place in animal agriculture. Not to mention the live birth that also happens in full effect early in the film. There is also the ultra-disturbing ten-minute rape scene in “Irréversible,” which has split audience members down the middle. Some say that it’s too much; others say it’s an explicit and emotional portrayal of a reality which serves as an awakening to the horror of rape. This topic itself is worthy of an entire article.

But for films that seem so human, why the controversy? Maybe it’s the fact that Noé directs some of his films with the help of cocaine or strips down to the nude for a cameo. Maybe it’s the light he sheds on the demonization of nudity in Western culture, or perhaps it’s the fact that Noé thrusts his audience into intensely real experiences that are intentionally ignored by the masses on screen, even though they are felt in real life.

Though some audience members may not consider Noé to be their cup of tea, the critics drink him up. His films have won over fourteen international awards, some coming from the most respected benefactors. He has won two Cannes Film Festival awards, and “Love” (which aired in 3D) was the official film selection at the festival in 2015. The Cannes stamp of certification deemed it to be a legend in film.

Noé believes that to be the best means to learn and to tell stories by way of film. Possibly, this is why he hates “Star Wars” and speaks openly about sneaking out the backdoor when he is forced into watching any superhero film. The king of the weird only seeks the weird — his top influences revolve around filmmakers and photographers like Stanley Kubrick who created “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  Noé went on to describe the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” as his first psychedelic trip as a child, equating the film to as powerful as a drug. Given his attraction to the intensity of such cinematic experience, fans can infer the other substances that influenced the concepts of his films and their cinematic direction.

“Just like Murphy, the lead character of [“Love”], I’ve spent my whole life obsessed with this ultimate masterpiece, which is beyond cinema,” Noé said to the New York Times. “For years, this movie was a psychedelic maze to me. Then it turned into a puzzle, an object of desire, of addiction […] When you fall in love, you turn blind to the rest of the world. This movie almost turned me blind to the rest of cinema.”

Much like Kubrick, this is the brilliance of Noé: creating unforgettable experiences for the audience, albeit enjoyable or uncomfortable. When pressing play on one of his films, the viewer is not merely agreeing to sit through a movie, they are enlisting in an adventure, which they will carry with them until they, too, enter the void.

Written By: Clay Allen Rogers — arts@theaggie.org