The Auteurs: Gaspar Noé
One of the most controversial filmmakers working in cinema today, Gaspar Noé is someone who isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of film and provoke audiences in the process. His films are often provocative tales that feature graphic and honest depictions of human sexuality. He is also not afraid to show the brutal ugliness that exist within mankind. These themes may not always help him find funding for his projects, but Noé does not let the lack of money stop him creatively. In fact it propels him to push the boundaries, especially from a technical side, even further.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 27, 1963, Noé is the son Luis Felipe Noé, a famous Argentinian writer and artist. Through his father, Noé discovered all forms of art and fell in love with cinema seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of 7. While attending the Louis Lumiere College, he stumbled upon an Austrian serial killer film called Angst by Gerald Kargl. The film’s brash approach to violence and terror excited Noé. After graduating from college, he spent much of the 1980s honing his craft as a filmmaker by working as an assistant director on various projects in France and Argentina.
Tintarella di luna/Carne (review)
During his time working as an assistant director Gaspar Noé made several short films. One of which was the 1985 film entitled Tintarella di luna, a strange short that obviously took cues from the famed surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel. Noé infused graphic sex and violence into his story about a woman who leaves her husband for her lover and must face the harsh consequences of that decision. Even in his early works, the director was not afraid to explore dark terrain.
Upon meeting another aspiring filmmaker in Lucile Hadžihalilović, who eventually became his wife and collaborator, Noé decided to make a short called Carne. The film focused on a butcher who spends his time working and tending to his mute daughter, the latter of whom he finds himself growing more attracted to. Carne explored a man coming to terms with his own sexual needs while being conflicted about his hatred towards the world around him. The role of the butcher was played by Philippe Nahon, who would go on to appear in several of Noé’s films. Carne premiered at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, as part of the International Critics’ Week section, ended up winning a couple of awards.
I Stand Alone (review)
After working on a film for French television, which garnered him some acclaim in the region, Noé decided to make a feature-length follow-up to his 1991 short film Carne. I Stand Alone revolved around a butcher (Philippe Nahon reprising the role) who goes to jail for a crime he did not commit and loses the custody of his daughter in the process. Complicating matters is the fact that the butcher gets married to a woman that ultimately takes advantage of him. Playing into the aesthetics of burgeoning New French Extremity, Gaspar Noé pushed the envelope in the way he explored the butcher’s inability to cope with the world he inhabited.
Along with Nahon, Noé got Blandine Lenoir and Frankye Pain to reprise their respective roles as the butcher’s daughter and mistress. Noé also enlisted Lucile Hadžihalilović to edit the film and Dominique Colin to serve as cinematographer. Among the things that the director wanted to improve on was his approach to close-ups. Expanding on the zoom techniques that he experimented with it with in Carne, the director created shots that effectively played into the butcher’s own isolation and disdain for the world.
I Stand Alone made its premiere at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival where it won the International Critics’ Week prize. The film went on to become a festival hit at Telluride, New York, Toronto, Rotterdam, San Francisco, and Sundance. I Stand Alone hit theatrical release in France in early 1999 and was well-received by French cinephiles. It came out at a perfect time when French cinema was embarking on a period where filmmakers started pushing the boundaries of explicit sexual content and graphic violence in their works.
Shortly after the premiere of I Stand Alone, Noé participated in a short film project that explored the pornography industry in France. Sodomites was designed promote safe sex within porno adult films. The story involved a crazed man in a wolf mask being tasked to have sex with a woman, while others watched in celebration, but is in need of a condom. As expected, the film divided audiences in 1998 as many were uncomfortable with the subject matter. In 2002 Noé made another short, entitled Intoxication, that focused on a drunk, Stephane Drouout, discussing cinema from the confines of his kitchen. While a simple short, the intriguing aspect of the film was that it showed Noé’s diversity. It proved he was capable of much more than merely shocking viewers.
Gaspar Noé’s second feature-length film was Irreversible, an unconventional revenge film that put Noé on the map globally. Told in reverse-chronological order, the plot revolved around the traumatic events that resulted in the rape of Alex (Monica Bellucci) by a stranger in a Parisian underpass. Angered by the rape, Alex’s boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and his friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel), delve into the seedy underworld of Paris looking to extract their brand of vengeance on the assailant.
Irreversible was daring on several levels as Noé presented the film in a way that gave the impression at times that it was filmed in one-continuous shot. This helped to heighten the terror in film while also giving it a surreal feel. Cinematographer Benoit Debie shot the film on 16mm and while Noé assumed editing and camera operator duties on top of his directing responsibilities. With the camera constantly moving, which in itself is a subtle nod to the book An Experiment with Time by John William Dunne that Alex reads, the film offered a truly visceral experience. This was most notable in the unflinching single take rape scene which proved to be the film’s most extreme moment.
The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 and played in competition for the Palme d’Or. Irreversible’s screening became one of the notorious moments in the history of the festival. The rape scene and a graphic violence led to numerous walkouts and polarized audiences. Though the film did not pick up any awards at the festival, the buzz surrounding the film helped it to both secure theatrical releases in the U.S. and U.K. in early 2003, and made Gaspar Noé a major name in cinema.
Eva/We Fuck Alone/8-SIDA
Noé spent the next few years creating short films and contributing segments to omnibus films in order to gain funding for his future projects. In 2005, he made an experimental, and at times frenetic, short called Eva. The film featured supermodel Eva Herzigova found model assuming three distinct personas.
The director also contributed to experimental anthology called Destricted about the topic of pornography. Noé joined other renowned filmmakers, such as Sam Taylor-Wood, Marina Abramovic, Matthew Barney, Larry Clark, Richard Prince, and Marco Brambilla, in making a short film that looked at pornography’s impact on society. Noé’s film, entitled We Fuck Alone, focused on two people in different rooms masturbating to a porno that they’re both watching. While the short was very dark in tone, there was also a strange air of childlike innocence that flowed throughout the film. Destricted premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival that and received mixed reviews from both critics and audiences.
Gaspar Noé is also took part in another omnibus film entitled 8 which revolved on 8 Millennium Development Goals. Other contributors to the anthology project included Gus Van Sant, Jane Campion, and Wim Wenders to name a few. Noé chose to do his short, entitled Sida, on the subject of AIDS. A departure from his usual brand of films, the narrative involved a man reflecting on what it is like living with the disease. The simple static shot allowed the audience to focus their attention on the man’s emotions rather than Noé’s usual visual flare.
Enter the Void (review)
After spending time on smaller projects, Noé finally secured funding for Enter the Void, a film he had wanted to make for several years. Fascinated by themes of life and death, the film revolved around a young drug dealer named Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), living in Tokyo with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who endures an out-of-body experience upon his death. The film follows the Oscar’s spirit as it copes with his own death and his sister’s grief.
Told from a first-person perspective, the film was a visual feat unlike anything Noé had done before. Aided once again by cinematographer Benoit Debie, and famed visual effects designer Pierre Buffin, Gaspar Noé brought in a strong team behind the scenes to help realize his vision. Some of these individuals included editors Marc Boucrot and Jerome Pesnel, sound designer Ken Yasumoto, and Daft Punk’s Thomas Banglater overseeing the music. Shot on location in Tokyo, the neon lights of the city helped Noé to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. Due to the ambitious nature of the film, post-production took more than a year to complete.
Noé unveiled an unfinished 163-minute long version of Enter the Void at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. The film received a positive reception and toured the festival circuit. In early 2010, a finished 154 minute cut of the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Though the film was too experimental to connect with mainstream audiences at the box office, Enter the Void did strike a chord with those who did see the film. Some critics considered the film to be Noé’s crowning achievement.
7 Days in Havana-The Ritual
Following a break after the release of Enter the Void, Noé was approached by producers in Europe to take part in an anthology film, 7 Days in Havana, set in Havana, Cuba. Noé’s film The Ritual focused on a young African-Cuban girl who is forced by her parents, believing she was cursed into being homosexual, to go into a cleansing ritual. Starring Othello Rensoli, Cristela Herrera, and Dunia Matos, the short found Noé taken a more restrained approach. Instead of letting his usual visual flare overshadow the narrative, he ensured that the parent’s inability to cope with their daughter’s sexuality remained at the forefront. 7 Days in Havana made its premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section where it received an excellent reception.
Gaspar Noé’s newest feature is a love story between Murphy (Karl Glusman), an enchanting artist Electra (Aomi Muyock), and Omi (Klara Kristin), the mother of Murphy’s child. Shot in 3D, with Benoit Debie once again handling the cinematography, the film continues Noé’s fascination with exploring human sexuality. The film premiered 2015 Cannes Film Festival this past May and, to the surprise of no one, polarized critics and audiences. Maintaining Noé’s reputation as an enfant terrible, the film was given a theatrical release in France in July and will be screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in a few weeks.
Uninterested in achieving mainstream success or acceptance, Gaspar Noé remains one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in cinema. He is fearless in his approach to filmmaking and is constantly pushing the limits from both a visual and narrative perspective. In an age where many often lament that lack of originality and risk-taking in the film industry, Gaspar Noé is the man providing those things and more.
© thevoid99 2015