The world of Gaspar Noe is a paradox. It is a world fueled by psychedelic, surrealist fever dreams but also natural beauty and brutality that is interested in exposing the nasty side of humanity. The side we would like to hide. To forget, but lurks in the shadows. Bearing its teeth when we decide to turn to it. When we get desperate. When we shed the pretense of societal norms, in Noe’s case, through the use of drugs and complex character, through terrible and fantastic life experiences.
He and long time collaborator Benoit Dubie use light like neon splatter painters, splashing shades of color that arouse our animal side. To make us feel what his characters feel in a primal way. The camera floats effortlessly like a ghost in every which way, spinning, disorienting. Electronic scores and soundtracks pulsate and stimulate our ears with both lush and screeching synthesizers. They are worlds of ugliness and beauty. He tends to do that, tackling ugly subjects in visually beautiful ways.
Tantalizing, horrible, energetic, passionate, violent, amazing, mindless, disturbing, sexy, bloody, emotional, bleak, deep, edgy, gimmicky, blunt, taboo, artistic (imagine every individual word strobing as a title card on your screen, each in a different font) are just some of the words that can describe his movies. His filmography is despised almost as equally as they are loved. Gaspar Noe polarizes. Upon first watches, many of these could be dismissed as edgy or shock-porn, but with analysis they can be much more than that. Or maybe… not. Enter the world of Gaspar noe.
7. Lux Aeterna (2019)
Standing at only 51 minutes, this movie is more of an experiment in form than it is an actual work to put in a filmography. A meta piece of fiction, Noe collaborates with actors playing themselves, most notably Charlotte Gainsbourg, Beatrice Dalle and Abbey Lee. They have conversations with each other while making a new film about witches. Shot in 5 days, this work has all of the workings of a rushed project. Ad-libbed dialogue that dwindles, unplanned verete like shots all culminating on an end sequence that goes on for far too long. That does not mean that it is devoid of substance.
He uses clips from Carl Th. Dreyer’s DAY OF WRATH and 1922’s HAXAN to introduce a connection between witch hunts and the exploitation of women. Aspect ratios change and switch as events unfold. The split-screen that was featured here carries over into a more realized work, VORTEX, that appears later in this list.There is a blinding sequence at the end that is so intense that it will induce headaches. Though visually interesting, the film is too short to have anything of real substance to develop. Half baked ideas appear and disappear, motivations such as jealousy and vulnerability flash through our characters without letting the audience dwell on these thoughts. LUX AETERNA feels like Gaspar Noe’s attempt at a Jackson Pollock painting. Throwing things at the canvas, honing his skill so that he can use it later. It may not even be long enough for it to be qualified to be on this list.
6. Love (2015)
In a seedy world bathed with color and dealing with weighty human themes you would think that Noe could have created his masterpiece, but it is very much the contrary. This film comes out feeling empty. Though it deals with sex, LOVE ends up appearing masturbatory with references to Noe’s other works, his self inserts and gratuitous, excessive imagery. At one point there is an ejaculation enhanced with CGI that shoots directly at the audience (that poor, poor VFX artist). A one sentence review sums the film up perfectly – “I would rather be watching porn.”
A couple, an American filmmaker living in France with his girlfriend, decide to spice up their relationship by bringing in a neighbor for threesomes. When things get complicated, we see their lives flashing back and forth from the past to the present.
There are a lot of moments that Noe tried to hit hard. Unfortunately he doesn’t expand or spend time with so many elements that it comes out in melodrama, especially because of the lackluster performances of the three leads. Noe has more trouble working with English actors in his filmography and the performances are notably better in French. His usually calculating pacing seems schizophrenic in LOVE, trying to expand on the concepts of time and fate that he laid out in ENTER THE VOID and IRREVERSIBLE, but in LOVE they appear gimmicky. It seems as if Noe had a story in mind, but spiced it up by making it non-linear.
Speaking of gimmicks, Noe also shot this movie specifically for 3D. It is bold, but ultimately annoying. That could sum up the whole film. The cinematic equivalent of a director smelling his own farts, basking in the pungent fumes. Harsh words, yes, but there is no other way to describe it. LOVE can be equated with Lars Von Trier’s THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, except lacking a lot of the self awareness that Trier injected into his film. There are some redeeming qualities. Though not one of his strongest movies, it still radiates his style. Beautiful cinematography and camera movements bob in and out of the DNA of this film the tide on a beach. Unfortunately it is a low tide and cannot carry the movie as it has in the past.
Some would say it feels like a parody of a Gaspar Noe film. Like he is trying to be himself instead of just being himself. It is the only movie on this list that lacks power, the easiest to place because it is his weakest film longer than 60 minutes. The others, harder because of their high quality.
5. I Stand Alone (1998)
Clearly inspired by the works of Scorsese and the French New Wave, I STAND ALONE is the seed of a style ready to be planted and become individualized. Most of Noe’s camera trademarks are unseen in this film as it sticks to mostly static shots. The color, however, is there in a highly saturated nightmarish world. A sick, twisted, misanthropic piece of work that allows the audience to traverse the mind of a deranged, isolated cretin battling his inner demons and finally his incestous thoughts. Thoughts that only a sociopath can have. Our main character, only credited eerily as The Butcher, is so jaded by life that he can’t even bear to put a smile on his face to save his job. He is a miserable, unwavering sociopath. The film describes itself in its voiceover as “the tragedy of a jobless butcher struggling to survive in the bowels of his nation.” Those words from the horse’s mouth describe what kind of attitude was put into this movie.
I STAND ALONE is a character study that feeds on the theme of loneliness and isolation as a disease that infects the mind affecting worldviews and skewing morality. An ever-present, almost distorted voiceover is the driving force to this film. We don’t know if this choice was a conscious one or one due to budgetary constraints, but nevertheless is befitting to the Butcher’s character, going off on long misanthropic monologues about loneliness and we get to pick his brain and his ideals. If you could even call it that. We see pictures of the narrator’s life up until the present moment.
Even this early in his career we see Noe have fun with title cards, as French new-wavers like Godard had done in the past. We don’t know if the Butcher was like this all of his life. We do get a solid psychological path of how he ended up here. An orphan, abandoned by his parents at the end of WWII, his life is nothing but stacking misfortunes, leading him to his present state. He believes that everything is a transaction – every relationship one could ever have, every emotion you can experience. He wanders through the back streets of Paris, looking for money wherever he can find it after violently lashing out at his pregnant girlfriend.
Clever editing allows us to get into the mindstate of the main character, blank, while also confusing the audience for clever transitions. Lots of edits are accompanied by hard, ominous musical stings followed by frenetic low shutter zoom-ins that date the movie. It also undercuts a lot of more emotional and genuinely terrifying scenes like an untimely punchline. It feels like Noe was searching for a style that wasn’t there yet. Fortunately, the twisted nature of the Butcher creates tension in scenes where there would be none if we didn’t know what he really was – a demented psychopath. Or is he? I STAND ALONE feels like a film made by an edgy, angsty young man in a dark time of their life who is finally ready to open up to life… only for the wrong reasons. A good comparison is emo or punk music. Easily outgrown, but a world that is exciting to fall back on and adventure in from time to time.