Purple Magazine
— S/S 2009 issue 11

Gaspar Noe

Portrait by Terry Richardson

portrait by TERRY RICHARdSON 
interview by OLYMPIA LE-TAN


The enfant-terrible of French cinema, GASPAR NOÉ, is well known for his transgressive provocations, for exploiting the darker shades of contemporary reality, and for pushing sensation to the limit of experience physically, sensually, and socio-politically in his films Irreversible and Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone). His upcoming film, Enter the Void, continues this journey into darkness, following a brother and sister through their ordeals in Tokyo and Vancouver.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — OK, let’s start.
GASPAR NOE — You’re giggling already!

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — No, I’m not! I’m very serious about this! Could you tell me a little bit about your childhood and your family?
GASPAR NOE — Well, I was born in Buenos Aires at the end of 1963. Shortly afterwards my parents moved to New York.

Film poster for Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Why New York?
GASPAR NOE — My father is a painter and he had been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. And my mother, who was teaching English in Argentina at the time, had Irish origins, so they both thought it would be a good idea. We stayed there until I was five. It was the hippie days and everyone was taking acid. My parents freaked out — they were terrified because all their friends’ kids started becoming junkies. So they decided it would be best to move back to Argentina. My mom became a politically engaged social worker and my dad kept on painting. But in 1976 on the coup d’état against Isabel Peron occurred and my parents’ friends started getting locked up in torture camps. It was time to leave.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — That’s when you all moved to Paris?
GASPAR NOE — Yes. My parents had spent a bit of time in France before I was born. Giscard d’Estaing was the French President but, even so, they loved it here. They felt it would be  a great country for their kids to grow up — a lot of art and good movies.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — But do you feel Argentinian?
GASPAR NOE — When I moved to France I did, but now that I’ve spent so much time here I feel more French.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — How about Argentinian culture? Is it something you can relate to?
GASPAR NOE — Although there’s an extremely strong Agentinian history, I don’t feel there’s such a thing as an identifiable Agentinian culture. But there are many great artists and among my favorite ones there are the painter Jorge De La Vega, the much less famous writer Osvaldo Lamborghini, and an amazing comic book from the ’60s called El Eternauta.

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar and Paz de la Huerta playing Linda

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Can you tell me a bit more about your father?
GASPAR NOE — He’s a lovely guy and a very good artist. I can only compliment him. You know, your parents teach you about right and wrong; other traits of character you just inherit from them. He is a great dad.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN  — Have you been influenced by his work?
GASPAR NOE — He likes bright fluorescent colors and my last movie is very psychedelic. In fact, I asked him to help me by doing some paintings to be shown in my new film. Then I had to figure out how to reproduce those fluo-colors on film without the help of ultraviolet lights. He drinks a lot but he never took drugs. He’s always drinking, always in a good mood. I know a lot of people who don’t drink quite as much as he does and aren’t half as nice as he is.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — How about your mother?
GASPAR NOE — She’s a very intellectual, very feminist, very political woman. We have a great relationship. I’m really happy with my parents. I wouldn’t have changed them if I could have.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — What did your mother teach you about women?
GASPAR NOE — Something happened once when I was a kid, at night in the streets of Buenos Aires. It was only about eight, but it seemed really late to me because I was just a little kid. There was this couple yelling at each other in this really quiet street. The guy was swearing at the girl. My mom immediately said, “Come on, we have to help her!” So she tried to interfere and the guy started yelling at her. Then the girl told my mom to piss off! I was really shocked. It’s weird — half the time the person you’re trying to help tells you to piss off. Anyways, I guess she taught me to always help out a woman in distress, no matter what.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — What about school? Where did you study?
GASPAR NOE — I went to the film school in Paris called Louis Lumière when I was 17. My parents were atheists and I was brought up totally atheist. But when I got to the age of 16 or 17, I started wondering why all my friends had a religion but I didn’t. I didn’t know if I was an atheist or if I was spiritual. I was a bit confused. I wanted to study religion but there was no such thing at college in France. Because I watched movies all the time and was good in math, someone suggested I go to Louis Lumière. I got in and started making little movies, which was great fun. I started dating girls, too. That’s how I escaped from my desire of spirituality! I mean, the word “spiritual” is just such a con! As soon as I hear it, I run for miles. I could have become a hippie! Yikes! I’m so glad I’m an atheist.

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar and Paz de la Huerta playing Linda

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Tell me about your first movies.
GASPAR NOE — I did my first movie at school. It’s called Tintarella de Luna. My father plays the part of a serial killer who strangles a woman on a bridge. He isn’t a proper actor — when it came to the strangling scene, he got a bit carried away and the woman started screaming, “Your dad is really strangling me!” The woman’s husband came to complain about my dad strangling his wife. My dad got really pissed off — “I’m not an actor. You should have hired a proper actor! How am
I supposed to know?”

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Why was he strangling her? What had she done?
GASPAR NOE — She cheated on her husband with a guy in a grocery store. She was hungry and had to bring food home for her husband, so she slept with the guy. Then she walked home late at night and got strangled by a stranger on a bridge.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — What are your influences? Who are your favorite directors?
GASPAR NOE — 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kenneth Anger. Georges Franju. Have you seen Eyes Without a Face or Blood of the Beasts? There’s also an Austrian film called Angst that was a great influence. Pasolini’s Mamma Roma and Salò. Taxi Driver, of course. John Boorman’s Delivrance. Metropolis is fantastic but I could never make a movie like that. Same goes for 2001: A Space Odyssey. You’ve got to be a really hard worker and I like drinking and partying way too much.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — But your movies do seem pretty technical. I’m sure you’re quite meticulous.
GASPAR NOE — I am. But I could never wake up at 6 A.M. and deprive myself of a social life just for the sake of art. Some guys are literally programmed to be hard workers. They’re like machines. I noticed that in Japan, when I was working on my last movie. Those people are totally dedicated workers. As far as I’m concerned, if I don’t party a little bit I’ll get ovarian cancer! [Laughs]

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar and Paz de la Huerta playing Linda

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — You didn’t mention any Nouvelle Vague directors. I thought Carne and  I Stand Alone both had quite a Nouvelle Vague æsthetic. The colors, the graphics…
GASPAR NOE — That’s what I like most about Godard’s movies — the really elegant graphics and sound effects. But I’m not particularly moved by what he has to say. It’s a bit like Kenneth Anger — I’m fascinated by his æsthetic, but I’m more touched by movies like 2001 or Paths of Glory. You might like the screenplays of some directors — Pasolini’s for Salò, for example. It’s a very impressive topic but there are a few scenes that I might have done differently, that I think are a bit “rushed.” I mean, some movies are perfect, like An Andalusian Dog or Jikoku, Mishima’s only film. Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising — now that’s a perfect movie.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — What do you think of Dario Argento?
GASPAR NOE — He’s the funniest director I’ve ever met. I love his movies but I don’t think they’re really all that scary.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Are they supposed to be?
GASPAR NOE — I’m not sure. They are really beautiful. He created a genre and he has his adoptive kids, like De Palma, who have really developed the genre. I guess Hitchcock, Michael Powell, or Mario Bava were the ones who really created it, but lets say that he took it further. Dario made us relate to characters like serial rapists. I mean, at the time of Mario Bava porn was illegal, so if people wanted to see anything sexual it had to be really symbolic. A guy stabbing a woman was much more tolerable than two people just having sex. But after porn came along and you could just go to the movies and see Deep Throat, those guys needed to add something new and Dario Argento’s æsthetic was that something. Suspira is magnificent. But what amuses me most about him is the way people consider him to be like a rock star, a bit like they see Polanski. People talk about those guys like they talk about David Bowie!

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Or about Gaspar Noé…
GASPAR NOE — No, I’m no rock star. I just sit in a little corner tuning my guitar. But there are these directors who are like rock stars. Everyone has stories about them. Everyone wants to be Polanski, even though they wouldn’t like to go through what he went through in LA. He’s still a legend. And, in his own way, Dario is also a legend.

Family picture of Gaspar Noé

OLYMPIA LE-TAN  — Let’s get back to Gaspar Noé. I noticed a really different esthetic in  Irreversible.
GASPAR NOE — Well, yes. It’s bare and psychorigid.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Carne and I Stand Alone are both really beautiful and amazing. You can just look at them without listening to them. But Irreversible is just, lets say, more ordinary, more common.
GASPAR NOE — But what’s ugly about it? The camera movements? The clothes?

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — No, the camera movements are great. The clothes are maybe not that great. I don’t know, maybe it’s the décor.
GASPAR NOE — It wasn’t about that this time around. But I think the thing is that you have a certain nostalgia. Carne and I Stand Alone are a representation of the ’70s. I wanted to recreate 1965-type images. I wanted it to look old. I had to search around all the Parisian suburbs to find areas that weren’t spoiled by graffiti, satellite dishes, or guys with baseball hats. There’s this feeling of vieille France. It’s all about nostalgia. I don’t know if you’ve seen Mesrine. At the end of it Cassel gets killed at Porte de Clignancourt. They recreated Porte de Clignancourt exactly as it was in 1982 and when you see it you think, oh, it was so pretty. But it’s not necessarily because it’s so pretty — it’s just because you feel nostalgic about what it was like back then. Anyway, as far as Irreversible goes, I don’t know what to say. Maybe you’re afraid of the Canal Saint Martin hipsters who are portrayed in the film. I am! It was all improvised. I didn’t tell the people what to wear — they wore what they came in. If you look at the people in the party scene, it’s just the same losers that you see at parties all the time.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Maybe it was just too close to reality for me.
GASPAR NOE — Monica’s character was supposed to be this well-off bourgeois girl and Vincent’s this funny kind of loser who thinks he’s really cool. I asked him to shave off his hair and he got really pissed off with me and said, “Why? Do you want me to look like you? Why do all directors need their actors to look like them?” But, really, I just wanted him to look like a normal guy and, for me, a normal guy has a shaved head and a pair of jeans. But the special thing about Irreversible was the camera movement, not so much the colors or style. In the next movie I tried to combine it all! Beautiful colors, camera movements, and Japanese neon lights… I also think that people prefer I Stand Alone because they can identify with the main character. Whether you like him or you don’t, you do grow attached to him. In Irreversible the camera moves like a fly from scene to scene and you don’t really have time to relate to the characters. They’re just a part of the set.

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar and Paz de la Huerta playing Linda

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Shall we talk about women?

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Your female characters are always either ugly and mean or miserable victims.
GASPAR NOE — But they always wear a ponytail!

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Why? So you can grab them more easily?
GASPAR NOE — I don’t know. Maybe to my mind a woman just has to wear a ponytail. Even in the short movie I did at school the girl in it had a little ponytail. In the new movie I had to fight with Paz de la Huerta about that. She doesn’t like her ears, so she wouldn’t wear her hair up. I mean, I love her lips and she looks amazing on camera. But I also love her ears! We got into this whole argument and she got pissed off — “It’s my character! I’ll wear my hair how I want to wear it!” In the end we found a compromise and she has a few scenes with her hair down. But, to answer your question, “Why are the women in my movies all either bullies or victims?” — I don’t know. What about the men? Aren’t they also either bullies or victims? The butcher — is he a bully or a victim?

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — I think he’s a bit of both.
GASPAR NOE — Maybe I know how to make men into both, but I have to put women in one category or the other. Although in my next movie the girl’s character is a little more complex. She’s not really a victim and she’s not a bitch either. In my first movie the young girl is supposed to be autistic, so I thought that she shouldn’t speak. Maybe I didn’t know enough about autism at the time, but I had my own idea of what an autistic girl should act like. I’d read something Fellini said about the speechless character in Satyricon, that what’s fascinating about a character who doesn’t speak is that you never know what he’s thinking or what he’s like, so he always seems very clever. Anyway, what we can say about the characters in Carne and I Stand Alone is that they’re very theatrical. They’re a bit like puppets moving around. They play their parts but they aren’t very realistic. At least Irreversible is quite realistic, apart from the rapist named Tenia (Tapeworm) and the club called Rectum and two or three other funny little things.

GASPAR NOE — Well, yeah. A club called Rectum — that’s quite funny, isn’t it?

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar and Paz de la Huerta playing Linda

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Let’s get back to women…
GASPAR NOE — Well, the problem with Monica’s character in Irreversible is that she only makes her entrance halfway through the movie. I really wanted to asphyxiate the audience with these really gay images. I’m not homophobic or anything, but a gay club really isn’t that sexy for me. So I thought, let’s show all this really gay stuff and then throw in this incredibly sexy woman, the ideal woman. But she doesn’t have that many scenes, so there isn’t much time to create an interesting character. Women are far more complex than men, at least from my perspective.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — You’re always surrounded by really pretty girls.
GASPAR NOE — You always see me in nightclubs. I don’t go to nightclubs to talk to guys! I have all day to do that!

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — What does your mother think about the women in your movies?
GASPAR NOE — She loves me and I love her. She’s really cool about it all. She thinks it’s great. She was the one who took me to see Salò for the first time when I turned 18. Then she tried to explain stuff about torture and sex to me. Then she asked me what I thought of the movie. But I didn’t really want to discuss it with her. Sex is a delicate topic for some people but not for my parents. They were more shocked by drug-related things. But sex is part of life. It’s natural.  I’d love to do a lesbian movie one day.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — With lipstick lesbians or butch lesbians?
GASPAR NOE — Lipstick, strictly lipstick.

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar and Paz de la Huerta playing Linda

GASPAR NOE — Of course!

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — What’s your definition of porn? How do we know when a movie is porn or not?
GASPAR NOE — I don’t think it’s about seeing sex on screen. It’s more about the budget and the dialogue. If a guy starts saying, “Eat this, you filthy whore. Take this in your mouth” — it’s porn dialogue. If the girl has a spotty ass and a guy is shoving his hairless dick inside her pussy and there’s a bright neon light above them, bad sync, and bad music, then it’s porn! But there are movies with girls licking pussies, erect penises, and sperm, and you don’t see them as being porn simply because they’re beautiful. It’s a choice. A porn movie is a dirty movie with dirty images of dirty guys who are like sex warriors. The girls never get their period and no one is ever preoccupied by AIDS or getting pregnant. In real life a lot of people get high to have sex, but there are never any drugs in porn movies. I mean — there are some really nice porn movies. I have a project for a porn movie but, unfortunately, it’s not the lesbian one.

GASPAR NOE — I’ll make the lesbian one after.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Why did you call your porn film We Fuck Alone?
GASPAR NOE — Oh, that was my coming out. That was me telling the world, “Yes, I got a ‘real doll’ when I was 16 and I fucked it so hard it popped.” I’m not kidding. I fucked it so many times that it exploded!

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Oh, I believe you!
GASPAR NOE — Like a lot of teens, I was into masturbation. But I had to quit. I was very proud of myself when I did! I was 19. That was my first victory.

Family picture of Gaspar Noé

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — I didn’t realize that you had quit.
GASPAR NOE — No, I did. I quit.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — But you told me it wasn’t so long ago!
GASPAR NOE — Well, I actually still do it. But I hold myself in. I don’t go all the way, so it doesn’t count. I just do it a bit to wake myself up in the morning. But I never come. I just pull my hand away when I feel it coming. Then I get up and go drink my coffee. It makes my heart beat real fast and helps me get out of bed.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Let’s talk about incest. I want to know if the father and daughter in I Stand Alone end up having sex?
GASPAR NOE — He wants to fuck her.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — But does he?
GASPAR NOE — He does … well, it’s up to you. You can interpret it how you like. Philippe Nahon, the actor, insisted on the fact that his character actually didn’t fuck her.

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — But you’re the director! You decide! Did he fuck her, yes or no?
GASPAR NOE — They had sexual intercourse, yes.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — I knew it!
GASPAR NOE — Not in Carne, only in I Stand Alone. It’s very common in France. There are no laws against incest. There are laws against pedophilia (sex under the legal age). But if a girl is old enough, she has the right to have sex with her father. Two consenting adults are totally allowed to have sex with each other.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Do you think that’s OK? I mean, in your movie you really don’t seem to judge the guy. If anything, we feel sorry for him.
GASPAR NOE — Well, he’s a poor guy. He hasn’t got a great life. He’s a bit of a loser. He can’t get girls. He’s a poor old butcher.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — It’s true. He doesn’t have the best life. But you manage to make us like him even though he beats up his wife, kills his unborn child, and fucks his daughter.
GASPAR NOE — He has extenuating circum-stances! There’s the same kind of thing in Fritz Lang’s movie, M. The guy is a pedophile and a serial killer but you still like him. That’s the good thing about movies — you get involved with guys who, in real life, you wouldn’t even speak to. Not even through prison bars. It’s a bit like dreaming. A movie is like a dream. And in your dreams you’re free to do whatever you want. Haven’t you ever killed someone in your dreams?

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Have you?
GASPAR NOE — I won’t give you any names, but I love waking up and saying to myself, “Ha-ha! I just killed so and so.” It’s a way of getting rid of your anger. You can also fuck whomever you want in your dreams. I once dreamt I fucked Ava Gardner. I never had an interest in her, but after that I really respected her work. Diane Keaton showed up in one of my dreams once. I fucked her too.

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Tell us a bit about your new movie, Enter The Void.
GASPAR NOE — It’s an ode to the love of life.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — You shot it in Tokyo, right?
GASPAR NOE — Tokyo and Canada, but mainly Tokyo. Japan is the best place in the world. I would love to live there one day. Everything is open 24/7. It’s just so funny. It’s the best.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Do you like Japanese women?
GASPAR NOE — Who doesn’t? There’s this great thing in Japan: everyone’s so obsessive. Everyone has to reach the end of their existential choices even if it goes against their own wellbeing. I really had the impression that my team cared a lot about making a great movie. That’s such a good thing when you’re artistic. In France all people care about is if they’ll get paid for overtime. And Tokyo nightlife is so much fun. I do love Paris, but Tokyo is more unexpected.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — What about the actors? Other than Paz de la Huerta, they’re not professional actors, are they?
GASPAR NOE — Well, they weren’t professional when I met them, but now they’re super-pro! They’re seriously amazing!

Film still from Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé<br />with Nathan Brown playing Oscar

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — What are their names?
GASPAR NOE — Nathaniel Brown and Cyril Roy, two amazing actors that girls will soon be fighting over! When you make a movie, you’ve got to be sure it’s going to be fun, and with Cyril I knew it would always be fun. We went out drinking every night. I only slept about three hours a night while we were shooting but at least I had lots of fun.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Tell us a bit about the story.
GASPAR NOE — It’s supposed to be a hallucinogenic movie. I read a lot of books about near-death experience before I wrote it. It all happens in this guy’s head. He’s about to die but he’s hanging on because he made a promise to his sister. So you see the film of his life. It’s very mental and psychedelic.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — So, it’s a brother and a sister. They’re orphans and the brother has promised his sister that he’ll always take care of her. Is that it?
GASPAR NOE — Did you get that off the Internet? Maybe it’s all a lie!

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Then tell me what happens!
GASPAR NOE — It’s about how he keeps his promise.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Oh, he does keep his promise. He doesn’t die?
GASPAR NOE — Well, if you’ve promised someone that you’re not going to die and you are about to die, what do you do?

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — I’m not sure. Does he take her with him to the other side? They both die! Your films always end badly!
GASPAR NOE — He can’t kill her — he’s about to die! Unless ghosts can kill.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — No ghosts — that’s too mystical for you. So?
GASPAR NOE — Well, he’s hanging onto life, trying not to die.

GASPAR NOE — And it’s tough.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — That’s it.
GASPAR NOE — Oh, I thought you might ask me more questions about sex.

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Well, I can if you like! Have you ever had an embarrassing erection?
GASPAR NOE — I don’t really want to answer that. Well, there are certain situations that are really sad, and you really should just cry. But instead, you just suddenly get a massive hard on. Like a horse!

OLYMPIA LE-TAN — Also, what would be your ideal orgy?
GASPAR NOE — Finally a serious question! My ideal orgy … Well, first of all, it would be outdoors, in the summer, by a lake or a river or by the sea. There would be a lot more girls than boys — Asians, blondes, black girls, very tall girls, some young and some not so young, some with big tits and some with tiny tits, some vicious, some innocent, but all curious. Everyone would be really happy to participate and none of us would be jealous of one another. We all would be atheist and none of us would have any STDs. We would all be free to have sex without condoms. The girls would either be just before, just after, or on their periods, and the risk of getting pregnant would be non-existent. Most of the girls would be bisexual and all the boys would be strictly heterosexual. None of the guys would cheat with Viagra to look better in front of the others. We all would be able to peacefully fall asleep after our orgasms and would be able to start again and make love as much as physically possible. Oh, and also there would be unlimited quantities of food and drink. I will not reveal who my dream guests would be for this very official interview, as the people I exclude might be jealous and hate me for life! But one thing is certain — I would like my friends Cyril and Maraval to be there. Even though they are madly in love with their wives and would never agree to participate.

[Table of contents]

S/S 2009 issue 11

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