Food For Thought: Gaspar Noé & The Womb (NSFW)

(Tumblr caption: “Every time I search for the words ‘Gaspar Noe’ I find something as terrifying as this..”)

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Director Gaspar Noé has been called many things over the past twenty years, from an enfant terrible to a straight up pornographer. I’m not here to defend those titles, and besides- it seems Noé certainly doesn’t care what people think (when asked about the sexuality in his films he said, “I have a penis. All the girls I loved had a vagina. What’s the problem?”). I could put my two cents in on the subject, but not today.

I’m about to review Noé’s Irréversible (2002) as part of my Z To A series, which is one of my favorite films of all time. Before doing so I found myself returning to a visual motif in his work, mostly because it relates to his depiction of women.

Like many straight male directors (of which there are many) Noé repeats himself visually. When it comes to framing the opposite sex he is no exception. Some of these directors are fixated on womens’ faces- particularly their expressions, eyes and mouths. Tarantino is known for his obsession with feet. Others hone in on legs, breasts and asses, which has become such a part of our cinematic language it’s a joke (insert Michael Bay punchline here).

Then there’s Noé. As sexually forward as his work can be, he seems repeatedly transfixed on something else: a woman’s reproductive system. It’s not just a part of a woman, but a place his camera lingers again and again. This preoccupation could be construed as sexual, but for some reason I’ve always associated it with a sort of awe and respect. After all, it’s something he doesn’t have. It’s also worth noting that he often shows that part of a woman’s body in peril- a constant crisis in his films.

This becomes apparent in his first feature, Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone) (1998), which not only frames the protagonist’s wife in this way, but provides an unforgettable shot of his daughter’s sexuality on the verge of being abused and destroyed.

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When you think of a man filming a woman’s body from the waist down, it’s easy to assume that it’s sexual. This isn’t necessarily the case in a Noé film. In Tous he shows a despicable act, but only through what’s happening to a young girl’s body, which is obviously not at fault.

The same could be said of Irréversible, where there is more emphasis on a woman’s ability to carry life. Fixating on the area between a woman’s waist and pelvis is like focusing on the origin of being, or at least it seems that way during the penultimate scene of the film. The camera comes to rest and tracks toward Monica Bellucci’s waist, reminding us of the child she is carrying and has (most likely) lost.

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He returns to the this style of shooting in Enter The Void (2009), which also depicts the loss of a child. The camera tracks away from Paz de la Huerta’s womb and begins to spin, revealing her character in the middle of an abortion.

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Near the end of the film the camera returns to the same character during a sex scene, passing through her waist and depicting penetration from inside of the body. In that case Noé had outdone himself, literally delving into a place no mainstream film has dared to go. Of course, this was considered unnecessary and explicit, which you can’t put past the man.

However, when he verges on pornographic Noé returns to the same place. I can’t say this for his short, We Fuck Alone (2006) or his video for Placebo’s “Protège-Moi” (2004), but it definitely comes across in his Eva Trilogy (2005), which he shot for the Cannes Film Festival. There is a recurring preoccupation with what’s between Eva Herzigová’s legs, or at least the potential of what’s there.

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Overall this has left me scratching my head. It would be overshooting to say Noé is a feminist (he is, however, married to one) but over the past twenty years he has framed these images in a way that aren’t only associated with pornography and arousal. It seems too simple, even reductive. So what is really going on?

I can’t think of another director who has been more visually preoccupied with womens’ sexuality and reproductive abilities in this way, as well as how they can be visually revered, exploited, corrupted and harmed. I can’t just say, “Gaspar Noé is obsessed with uteri.” It doesn’t sound right.

Perhaps it’s a preoccupation with the womb. As Freudian as that sounds, I think he would approve.

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One thought on “Food For Thought: Gaspar Noé & The Womb (NSFW)

  1. Or maybe transformation, creativity, grounding – if we were to interpret it in relation to the chakras where the first through third chakras are found in the lower torso. First chakra or the root chakra represents survival, your connection to the earth; second or sacral chakra represents sex, procreation, vitality; third or solar plexus often is seen as power, transformation, energy.

    But that’s the woo-woo part of me talking though…

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