INTERVIEW BY KALEEN AFTAB
PORTRAIT BY MACIEK POZOGA
Vice first met filmmaker Gaspar Noé last year in Kabukichō, a Yakuza-controlled sex district in Tokyo where, as the saying goes, you can get anything your disgusting fucking black awful heart desires. When you are in Kabukichō you are never more than four feet away from a blindfolded salaryman taking it in the ass from a teenage girl wearing a 12-inch strap-on while he sips horse urine from a thigh-high boot.
We went to meet Gaspar on the advice of Harmony Korine, who told us stories of cameras hanging from streetlights, cameras peeking out of gutters, and cameras dangling precariously in toilet stalls, all in the service of Gaspar’s vision for his latest film, Enter the Void.
When we finally found the Argentine-born French native, who rose to infamy with films like Irreversible (2002) and I Stand Alone (1998), it was quickly revealed that he hadn’t slept in days. We got along famously and spent the next few days traveling with him to all manner of establishments, from really over-the-top SM palaces to orgy and “companion” houses. At one of these places we saw an old man hanging suspended in the air with a piece of red felt tied snugly around his balls while a woman dressed in PVC peed in his mouth. He gargled it down, while saying something along the lines of “I am a human toilet.” During the making of Enter the Void, this was as normal for Gaspar as checking his email and getting a coffee.
A few months later we hung out with Gaspar at the premiere of Enter the Void in Paris. It received a ten-minute standing ovation. Oh, and by the way, we had our video cameras with us in Kabukichō and Paris and you’ll soon be able to watch a documentary about Gaspar on our new cinema-obsessed TV show, The Vice Guide to Film. Check viceland.com and VBS.TV for news on that.
In the meantime, here’s what happened when we caught up, yet again, with Gaspar at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Vice: You have a reputation as being a director who people either love or hate.
Gaspar Noé: Here at Cannes I’m used to people screaming at my movies. When it didn’t happen with Enter the Void, I thought, “This is weird.” I was shocked that nobody was booing or whistling! But then I read the reviews of the movie and some people really hated it and I thought, “Oh, we’re OK then!”
Why did you decide to shoot this film in Tokyo?
Because Tokyo is like a huge pinball machine! It’s both a scary and an extraterrestrial place. I wanted to find a city that looks like Tron, and nowadays that’s either Las Vegas or Tokyo. I don’t like Vegas—it’s full of bad whiskey and dirty money—so I thought it would be much better to go to a real city, Tokyo. It’s also a place where people are obsessed by sex.
After the first 20 minutes, the film is seen through the eyes of the main character, who has died and is in the afterlife. Do you believe in reincarnation?
Maybe I believed in God when I was a teenager. Back then I was reading lots of books about near-death experiences and the soul. But now I think life is a one-shot thing. After you have gone, only other people can still enjoy your life. Some people are so afraid of having a meaningless existence that they make themselves think they will have a second chance at life after they die. That is how all these religions work: by claiming there is going to be life after death and that it will be amazing—but only if you behave like a lamb before you die.
A lot of people say your films are pure shock value and that you’re taking the piss out of the audience. What are you actually trying to say with this new film?
It’s all about trying to establish that the main character’s own life was not totally meaningless. And it’s also about the experience of one small mammal among millions of mammals. Very frequently what a life boils down to is a single, very traumatizing experience.
The thesis of the film seems to be that everyone is recovering from some sort of trauma.
Yeah. One movie that made me cry a lot is called Grave of the Fireflies. It’s a Japanese cartoon about a brother and a sister and it takes place in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. The brother is trying to protect his sister, but she dies of starvation in the end. It’s so dramatic when there is a brother protecting his sister, even more so than when a man is protecting his wife.
Do you have a sister?
Yes. She’s slightly older.
Are you trying to analyze the mental states of your characters in your films? The action is often very internal.
I wish a psychoanalyst would tell me what it is that’s hidden between the lines for me. But I think it’s quite obvious what is hidden inside the character of Oscar in this film. There’s the obsession with tits and the mother—things that are so evident that you don’t even need a psychoanalyst.
You black out the screen for a full minute in this film to represent the passing of time.
The black represents nine months of pregnancy. Most people here in Cannes thought the movie was over! Some of them started walking out. Perhaps I need to add some sound there so that people realize that the film has not ended.
This film seems less aggressive than your previous work.
I used to be very crazy. But then I reconsidered my own patterns. The truth is that you can seriously not do a movie on drugs. It takes so much energy to make a movie that you have to be totally in your right mind. I’ve been very clean lately besides alcohol. The next thing I should stop is vodka. I have problems going to a party and not drinking one glass after another after another…
Go to VBS.TV for updates on our new show, The Vice Guide to Film, which is coming soon to your television and where you'll get more of our time with Gaspar.