Though he directed only a handful of movies, filmmaker Gaspar Noé achieved maximum impact by creating some of the more dark and disturbing films on either side of the Atlantic. In fact, Noé's films triggered something of a backlash against the director, with critics unabashedly expressing either their adulation or loathing of his work. Noé made his feature debut with the depressing "I Stand Alone" (1998), but it was his unrelenting second film, "Irreversible" (2002), that put him on the map for better or worse. At the film's heart was a graphic, nine-minute rape scene featuring star Monica Bellucci that triggered outrage and many walkouts over its harsh portrayal of such a humiliating act. Never one to back down or apologize, the unassuming Noé shrugged off such criticisms while his movie became a box office hit. Thanks to the success of "Irreversible," he went on to direct his dream project, "Enter the Void" (2009), a dream-like experimental film that once again polarized critics. This time, however, the film was a financial flop. Love him or hate him, Noé was a unique filmmaker capable of eliciting strong visceral reactions to his work, proving with his kinetic style that he offered something new to the medium.
Born on Dec. 27, 1963 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Noé grew up the son of painter Luis Felipe Noé and absorbed the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. After working as an assistant director on the Argentine features "El exilio de Gardel" ("Tangos") (1986) and "Sur" (1988), he attended film school at L'Ecole Lumiere in Paris, where he made his first film of note, "Carne" (1991), a 40-minute short that focused on a horse butcher (Philippe Nahon) who believes his autistic daughter (Blandine Lenoir) has been raped and seeks revenge on her attacker. Up until that point, Noé had been rather nonchalant about directing as a career and was merely amusing himself. But "Carne" attracted the attention of the short film division of Canal Plus, which gave him an opportunity for wider exposure on the pay TV channel. Meanwhile, Noé worked as a camera operator and cinematographer on "La Bouche de Jean-Pierre" (1996) and "Good Boys Use Condoms" (1998), before finally scoring a chance to direct his first feature.
Noé's opportunity to helm his first full-length movie came when he received financial backing from French designer, Agnes B., which allowed him to make "I Stand Alone" (1998), a grim drama that picked up where "Carne" left off. After serving his prison term for killing his daughter's alleged rapist, the no-name Butcher (Nahon) finds himself newly married with a pregnant wife and struggling to rebuild his life. Deep in despair and filled with bitterness, he abandons his wife for Paris where he determines to reconnect with his estranged daughter while seeking new vengeance with his only companion - a loaded pistol. "I Stand Alone" first screened at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival before traveling the international circuit throughout 1998-99, which included stops at festivals in London, Telluride, Rotterdam, Edinburgh and Sundance. Despite such a pedigree, however, the bleak film saw a tiny release - actually just one theater - in the United States.
If Noé disturbed some critics and viewers with "I Stand Alone," he downright infuriated - and in some cases repulsed - people with his sophomore effort, "Irreversible" (2002), a kinetic look at a man (Vincent Cassel) seeking revenge on the sicko who brutally raped and beat his wife (Monica Bellucci) in a deserted subway passageway. Told in reverse chronological order - audiences witness the vengeful act and are taken backwards to slowly learn the story behind the brutal act of vigilante violence - "Irreversible" was a grisly and stylistically energetic film that featured as its centerpiece a brutal nine-minute rape scene that became the topic of discussion. Critics and audiences remained sharply divided about whether or not one needed to see such a graphic depiction. Of course, Noé delighted in the polarizing effect his film had; even relishing the fact that audiences walked out of theaters in a huff. Regardless of what one felt about the film, "Irreversible" was an international hit and undoubtedly put Noé on the map.
After "Irreversible," Noé directed the music video, "Protège-Moi" for the U.K. band, Placebo. But the video was never officially released due to its explicit nudity and sexual content. Meanwhile, he went back to making short films, only this time in an effort to contribute to a pair of anthology films. The first was "We F*ck Alone," which was part of the eight-segment anthology "Destricted" (2006), which explored the line where art and pornography intersect. Other filmmakers included Richard Prince, Cecily Brown and Larry Clark. He next directed the short "SIDA" for the anthology "8" (2008), which featured eight shorts from the likes of Gael García Bernal, Gus Van Sant and Wim Wenders centered on the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Noé's piece tackled the goal to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. Back to making features, Noé directed his pet project, "Enter the Void" (2009), a cosmically surreal experimental film about a small-time drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown) in Tokyo who is shot in a deal gone bad and crosses over into the spirit realm, only to try to reunite with his sister-turned-exotic dancer (Paz de la Huerta). Relying heavily on imagery to convey a near-psychedelic journey, Noé's film once again polarized critics, with some calling him indulgent and others calling him inventive. "Enter the Void" was ultimately a financial disaster and barely made over one percent of its budget.
By Shawn Dwyer