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Gaspar Noé: A New Extremism in Cinema

Argentinean born French auteur Gaspar Noé's confrontational and transgressive cinematic style and attitude wonderfully mirror the extreme transgressive nature and cultural shifts in France.

Noe's filmography depicts masculinity in a manner that is both orienting and disorienting through an intersectional lens [1]. This is especially seen in his 2015 film Love.

In his films, Noe often uses haptic images and sound reversing to interrogate the existence and to express a clear and abject visuality to expose the flesh.

Noé was born in Argentina in 1963 but has lived in France since the middle seventies [2]. His films are known to invoke controversy, to say the least. The 2002 debut of Irréversible is a prime example of this –– as it reportedly induced physical illness at the Cannes Film Festival and leading a normally unshakable Village Voice reviewer to denounce it for aiming to inflict “nausea [and] moral indignation” on its viewers. Noé has an uncompromising cinematic vision that deviates from cinematic norms and creates new ones in the process.

What was especially controversial about the film was the frequent uses of expletives directed at homosexuals and women, and a several-minute scene in which the character played by Italian actress Monica Bellucci is anally raped.

On the surface, Noe's disturbing long-take is clearly designed to to foster empathy with the woman's experience and to induce a physical aversion to rape [3]. However, a deeper examination of the scene's ambiguous techniques reveals that they actually work to split the viewer's identification between the rapist and the women he attacks.

One function of this split is to lead the viewer —who is presumed to be male—along an emotional path from lustful aggression towards empathic understanding. Similarly, the film also provides audiences with a transitional figure—a male character who is almost raped—as someone with whom they can identify on the way towards identifying with the female.

But this male character ultimately serves as a negative example when he moves to take revenge—an act which is shown to be an extension of the rape, part of the same masculinist ideology or myth of male inviolability perpetuated through the violation of others.

The revenge is revealed as being the male character's denial of his own complicity in the rape and of his own participation in ‘rape culture’.

Irréversible, tells its story in reverse chronology and consists of about thirteen long unbroken shots. The first is a brief prologue featuring the butcher who appears in both of Noé's previous films, rehashing his sordid past. The camera convulsively swoops and gyrates throughout the scene, providing only fleeting moments of clarity. It is a masterwork of cinema, and Noe shows pure creativity and mastery in his craft.

The camera then plunges into the bowels of an underground gay nightclub called The Rectum, where two men– Marcus and Pierre, played by Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel–are determined to find and kill a male prostitute known as Le Ténia—The Tapeworm—who has raped and tortured Alex, the current girlfriend of Marcus and former lover of Pierre.

Thinking they've found their quarry, Pierre smashes his skull with a fire extinguisher—only it isn't Le Ténia at all, but a hapless bystander. The camera's constant movement mirrors the chaos and violence of the situation. Undoubtably, the films is a stunning expose of human violence, sexuality and the complexities of the human condition.

Moving back in time, we next see Marcus harassing a taxi driver and a transvestite hooker as he searches for The Rectum, while Pierre pleads with him not to be so violent. Moving back in time again, we see Alex walking into the dark subway underpass where she is raped and beaten.

We then see the situation preceding the rape—a party, at which Marcus plays around with other girls, leading Alex to walk home by herself. The films creates new structures and chronological templates for cinema that is animated by a free flowing energy.

His 2009 film Enter the Void enriches our understanding of what film can do in the digital era [4]. Incorporating ideas from neuroscience, from physics, and from somewhat esoteric research into hallucinogens, we propose that Enter the Void suggests a cinema that emphasizes the related nature of all things, a related nature that we can achieve through the transcendent medium of abstract and experimental cinema.

Enter the Void stands out as one of the most aesthetically daring and philosophically stimulating film of recent times. The film involves a relatively unconventional storyline, and it is shot in a way that is aesthetically experimental and deeply philosophical. It gives the impression of being a single unbroken shot lasting over two hours and twenty minutes.

The film is theoretically composed from a single and literal perspective, namely Oscar's, meaning that the camera shows us his actual point of view. The narrative of the film is marked by an unusual progression that passes from the human and subjective view of Oscar towards a ghostly or absent perspective associated with the lingering trace of his being.

In this manner, the film invites viewers to connect with the philosophical concept of the void, which is shown to underlie the ground and all being and appearance.

To conclude, Noe is a ruthlessly innovative filmmaker that breaks barriers and pushes boundaries, like Jean Luc Godard did before him. The abstract cinematography and confrontational subject matter in his eclectic filmography make him an auteur that is willing to provoke his audiences, as he treats sexual behavior as violence instead of an intimate phenomenon. His nihilism and unique cinematic approach shows us how dark, thrilling and thought provoking cinema can be.


[1] Hjelm, Zara Luna. "Blood, Sperm, and Tears in Extreme Cinema: A phenomenological study in hegemonic masculinity through Gaspar Noé's Love from a psychoanalytical perspective." (2020).

[2] Sterritt, David. "“Time Destroys All Things”: An Interview with Gaspar Noé." (2007): 307-316.

[3] Keesey, Douglas. "Split identification: Representations of rape in Gaspar Noé's Irréversible and Catherine Breillat's A ma sœur!/Fat Girl."Studies in European Cinema, no. 2 (2010): 95-107.

[4] Brown W & Fleming D (2015) Voiding Cinema: Subjectivity beside itself, or unbecoming cinema in Enter the Void, Film-Philosophy, 19, pp. 124-145.


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