Gaspar Noe: Cinema as hallucinogen
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Gaspar Noé: Cinema as hallucinogen

While born in Buenos Aires in 1963, Gaspar Noé spent his childhood flying from Buenos Aires to New York, and finally to Paris. His father is Luis Felipe Noé, a renowned plastic artist famous for his neo-expressionist, neo-figurative, and post-informalist work. He was a member of the dissolved group “Nueva figuración Argentina” and an inspiration for Gaspar’s work and creations.

Due to the coup in 1976, the Noé family was exiled to France, where Gaspar started his cinema studies. It was here that he was able to create his iconic, resounding productions. He began planning them from a place where human decisions are made in complex, extreme conditions, generally driven by anger and distress. His first projects are proof of his financial struggle, given that the themes which Gaspar addressed in his works are driven by wild creative liberty.

“Carne” (1992) was his first short film and the one which shot him to fame. This short film took him two years to produce. With it, he gained the renown he needed to produce his next project, the feature film “Solo contra todos” (1998). One could make out that “Carne” was a prequel to the film “Irreversible” (2002) within the first few minutes of the latter.

Gaspar Noé’s work is known for a strong beginning, something that unsettles and makes the audience feel identified. Noé seeks a strike, a shock, a feeling of uncertainty, perhaps fear,  a permanent discomfort, all of this to capture the audience’s attention so they don’t miss anything that’s happening on the screen because if they did, they would be off the (possessive and unusual) experience that these films provide.

They are productions of a very hard nature. Gaspar’s works are a hypnotic trance in which he dives into, and takes the audience down with him, too, as if he was a shaman hypnotizing them with his spells and incantations.

Regarding his projects, not everything was related to cinema. In 1998 Gaspar filmed a pornographic film at the request of the French Health Department called “Sodomits: When it comes to perversion everything is valid, expect not wearing a condom”. By filming this short film, the director starts to solidify his style and technique, his sudden camera movements, and the use of a pace distinguished by cuts so short that it makes the audience feel like they are in a constant, unstoppable short sequence. In this way, Gaspar found the visual attraction he needed to reach his goal: absorbing the audience, visually and sensitively, to the point that they feel alienated from their present.

Gaspar Noé’s recognition

“Irreversible” (2002) turns out to be the peak of his career. Taking into account the film’s lead couple, Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, Noé’s had the budget needed to turn a feature film into an author’s film.

Irreversible. Because time destroys everything because some actions are irreversible because the man is an animal because the thirst for revenge is a natural impulse because crimes go unpunished because love is the source of life because every story is written in blood and sperm because premonitions disrupt the course of events because time always shows all the good and all the bad.

Irreversible got great filmmakers talking about him, and the industry began to follow him closely. Following the film, he was nominated for the Cannes Festival and won many awards (like the San Diego Festival, among others).

Gaspar Noé - Irreversible Film

It was a 9 minutes scene where the memorable Monica Bellucci portrays a striking rape scene. In the sequence, Bellucci’s character is locked in a closed passageway, with red walls and pedestrians passing by until she finds herself alone with her aggressor.

Those 9 minutes make every last cell in our bodies tremble, and nerves are uncontrollable. The body demands resistance. The physical and spiritual pain that the scene gives off is the developed concept in Noé’s productions. It is not enough to impress the audience’s eyes, but to feel something excessive: a feeling of submission, the distress caused by not knowing how to act, how to react when the body is struggling and prevented from all motion.

From start to end, he tries to give away clues to the audience about what is happening, but he’s not letting the audience take control or understand completely the feeling he wants them to feel. Nothing is logical, but there’s a reason underneath all of that which will be revealed later on. These films have dramatic narratives and also violent, broken pace structures, defined colours, environments with determined architecture, chilling music, and bright or dim lights.

You can’t see anything clearly that may anger, scare or distress the audience. This is Noé’s intention. The character’s psychological state, their permanent uncertainty, gets into the audience, who end up feeling that uncertainty and hesitation.

Noé, also a screenwriter, works very finely on his characters. Beyond the character’s special features, which can be exteriorized and sensed to be very simple, we can observe a reaction, a glance, and their thoughts on how they make a decision. The concept of taking a person to their limits and watching how they react in their most savage way, tearing apart the super-I mantle, and ignoring society’s rules on how to behave, that’s what Noé focuses on.

Adaptability and irreverence

Nightlife, drugs, and sex are part of Noé’s universe, as well as sexual violence and the perspectives they may address. Gaspar divides “Irreversible” into two parts: After the rape (and the need for revenge that arises from it) and before the rape, which shows the naïvité and joy of the victim. Nonetheless, not everything is pain and despair, there’s also a place for pleasure and even love. Love (2015), as well as Climax (2018), can be interpreted as examples of that universe of pleasure Noé makes references to.

In the film, we find pleasure, ejaculations, threesomes, broken condoms, exploration of sexuality, and toxicity, around a story about youngsters who find themselves madly in love, to the point they can’t breathe without each other. The characters are innocent and immature, who sometimes need to show maturity, and the desperation of not getting what they want.

In the film Climax, Noé takes other types of pleasure to the limit: dancing frantically, stunned by people, the strength of music, lack of lights and the impossibility of leaving the room, enhanced by the extasis and free sensuality and sexuality. That levitating feeling is made constant by having the sexual desire at its peak.

Gaspar Noé’s versatility means he can introduce these two productions and then revive a film amid a pandemic with a 10-pages-long script. Vortex (2021) is proof of that. By conceptualizing death, addressing it from love and the care of a couple of octogenarians, the director gives in to another type of story without breaking his style. Gaspar Noé’s cult is capricious but doesn’t have an end..

There’s no doubt he is one of the most interesting contemporary visual artists. His proposals take the audience to the extreme while he tries to constantly innovate, understanding cinema as a hallucinogen: a stimulating substance, a place where time stops and moves into other destructive, violent, pleasant, or distressing realities.