Gaspar Noé is known for exploring what lies under the surface through the darker side of human experience and psychology. He has been called a genius and a provocateur and the intensity of his films leaves his audiences with mixed emotions – many are enthusiastic or surprised, others anxious or confused. With sincere openness, the accomplished Buenos Aires-born auteur speaks to Sophie Caby about the relationship between the body and mind.
Once you enter the void, can you get out?
No way. You come from the void, you end in the void. You come out only once, and you melt into it once.
So there are two voids?
There is one entrance and one exit, what happens between the entrance and the exit also, most of the time, is void.
Do you find there is a difference between the body and the mind?
I think that the mind is the sweat of the body, the sweat of the matter. There are forces and energies that are much stronger than what we can understand. Like forces of life that create all kinds of patterns and shape matter itself. I don’t know what the soul is if people think that the spirit can come out of the body and be separated from it. No, I believe they are totally linked. They are the right and the left arm of the same body.
So the mind is too abstract to be separated from the body?
Yes, but the mind is considered to be electric discharges.
Could you say that people do things with their body without affecting their psyche?
No, not at all. If you smoke a joint, your mind turns into a different state. If you’re food poisoned, your belly, your vision and your perception of life is different. When you sleep your perception of life is different. The perception of life and life itself is so much linked to the hormones, or…
Are we slaves of our bodies?
We are slaves of all the movements inside our bodies. There are so many particles and molecules moving inside your brain and the rest of your body. If you get hurt, if you have a huge accident, your perception of the moment is going to be totally different than the one you had an hour before when you were having dinner in a safe place.
Do you hear voices in your head?
I have a kind of a permanent radio playing in my head… That’s why I have problems reading novels or film scripts that I receive. There are voices in my head all the time, and when people are talking to me, I would say one fourth of the time my radio is on, and so if someone asks me what I think about this or that, I say yeah, yeah, just because I get disconnected very quickly.
It’s Radio Gaspar, or what would you call it?
Pfff…. some cheap Latino radio.
Do you agree with the idea that we have a feminine and a masculine side? Do you think there is a fundamental difference between men and women?
Once again, I think the hormones in your body and the molecules in your brain are slightly different. So sure, female behavior has some patterns you don’t find amongst men and vice-versa. If you give testosterone to a woman, after a while she’ll become very masculine. I would say girls are more bipolar than men. For example I am manic-obsessive…
If you read a book about neurosis, I’m one of those people who, half of the time, go back to their apartment just to check if the door is locked. They say that’s one of the easiest patterns to recognize in someone who is manic-obsessive. But… I would say that men are more manic-obsessive and women are more bipolar in general.
Does being manic-obsessive help you in your work?
When you make movies, you have to be obsessive, because if you abandon your task at any moment, things can go wrong. Japanese people are very manic-obsessive as a country, which enhances that kind of behavior amongst men and women; they are perfectionists. I would say I am a perfectionist. Is it a good quality to have or not? While directing a movie I would say it is, at least it helps when you need to bring in other people to create what you can’t create yourself, and so you have to keep convincing them. You have to be ready everyday of the week, and work until three in the morning.
Where is your home?
At a point I felt like I could move to Japan, but after I shot a movie there, I don’t feel at home there. I don’t feel at home in New York anymore, I used to live there when I was a kid. There are some things in New York that are very different from what I expected from everyday life. I feel more at home in France.
Do you feel at home with your parents?
There are some friends that you can be totally transparent with, I would say with my father I feel at home. The closer you feel to someone the more you feel at home, and there are people that you can talk to about anything and you never feel like you’re being judged. A lot of people are always kind of judging you, like if you say something that seems very natural to you and they say you’re a weirdo – that means they don’t belong to your family.
You’re a weirdo.
I consider myself the most normal person on this planet.
Do you have good memory? Do you train it?
I used to have a good memory but I did a lot of MDMA, and I don’t know if it’s that or just partying in general. I don’t train my memory. I think that at a point in your life, when you’re young or a teenager, you record experiences all the time; you recall names because you’re trying to make your world bigger. But after a while you meet so many people and you’ve been through so much shit, good experiences, bad experiences, shaking hands with this guy, with that guy, with that other girl, that at a point there is so much information that you have to erase a little bit of the hard drive. And after a while you enjoy not remembering things because otherwise you know that the hard drive is going to become full and your brain is not going to work as fast as it would if it were empty. So no, I don’t recall names, faces. Sometimes even when I put numbers in my cellphone I look at it three months later and don’t know who the fuck the person is who is in my cell. Also it’s age.
In which conditions do you work? Although you work all the time I guess…
Well sometimes I work and sometimes I’m being lazy, like when I have to wait for the finance of a project. Then I’ll have a period watching DVDs, meeting people, shaking hands, sometimes working on music videos or small projects like that. But once you start preparing a film, it eats all your brain, it eats all your time, so when you get into that tunnel, you cannot stop until you get out of it, Some directors like Soderbergh can make two or three movies a year and Fassbinder could make up to six or seven in that time. If I do one movie every two years, I’m more than happy. I usually make one every five years but if I can make one every other year, it would fit my pace.
And now you’re happy!
I’m happy because I just bought some really good documentaries at the shop.
Recommended to you from someone?
Highly recommended by friends.
Do you listen to your friends?
Yeah, when they tell me you should check out this movie, they know my taste.
Do you react to boredom?
When I’m bored somewhere, I just escape. If I watch a movie that is too predictable even if I’m paid four million or got invited to the cinema I just leave after fifteen minutes. But in real life that is why I usually avoid dinners, I come and get in just for the coffee, or if people meet in a restaurant I usually arrive at the last moment so if it’s fun you enjoy it but you don’t have to stick to your chair. I’d rather meet people in nightclubs or in bars than around a table with food. I’m not a food fetishist at all.
But when you go to bars or clubs you can’t hear people, or at least, I can’t hear people, it gets on my nerves.
Yeah, but now in restaurants the music is so loud, for example last night I went to a Japanese restaurant and the sound was so loud that I just escaped, I didn’t care, I just couldn’t handle it, there was no music, it was just all the people talking and the reverberations and the echo inside the space. It was awful.
You avoid it.
Yeah, it all depends. You’d better check before going to dinner who is going to be around the table because in some cases you shouldn’t go at all. It’s like if you have a friend inviting you to see his movie and you’re afraid it’s going to be bad, most of the time it’s going to be bad, it’s better to wait and see it secretly, paying your own ticket.
When do you decide the titles of your movies?
In some cases, either at the very beginning, in some cases it arrives at the end. With Enter the Void, I had it before we started the movie, for Irréversible I found it one week before shooting, for Stand Alone it was set before I started shooting. But it’s cool if you can find a title when you write the script. But it doesn’t happen all the time or you might have a title and then in the process of making the film you find something better. I like titles that you can use in any country of the world without translating them, like Irréversible, the same word would work in English, in French and in Spanish so I knew that at least in all those territories the title wouldn’t change. For Enter the Void they kept the English title almost everywhere except maybe in Russia and Portugal.
Which one of your six senses do you follow the most?
Of my six senses?
Eeh… of your five senses!
You said six so I was wondering. Because they say women have a sixth sense.
Of your six senses then.
My eyes, my eyesight, for sure. I wouldn’t mind loosing all my other senses but that’s the one I want to keep.
You have been labeled controversial and provocative by society, in which ways do you agree with society?
By which society? There are so many societies inside this world.
The worst thing about for example the way it’s like in America is that they need labels for every person: racial, religious, sexual, and for artists. They like to have a French pervert in the room all the time, pervert equals France, they use this French word provocateur instead of saying a pervert, because it sounds better and it seems like in France it smells different. So if you come with a French movie that’s quite violent, of course they’ll put that label on you, even if you’re Argentinian, they’ll keep that label just because the movie was in French. Fine, I don’t mind playing the pervert in the room; there are worse parts to play.
Is it true that drugs damage your brain?
I think that so many things can damage your brain, there is this saying that says you are what you eat, people care about what they eat, but you are also who you fuck. Having sex or falling in love with the wrong people can be worse than eating bad food everyday. Some plants or drugs are mind openers, as long as you don’t get addicted, why not? Adrenaline is addictive, fighting can be addictive, many kind of social patterns are addictive, and masturbation can be addictive. Some drugs are definitely more damaging than others, especially speed, coke and cheap coke, crack. Also all the legal psychiatric drugs that are prescribed for everything. In America, each time you meet a girl she’s got all these pills in her purse. And they even give Adderall, which is hardcore amphetamine, to kids, how can they give them that? Their brain is going to be boiling for years and when they reach the age when they’re supposed to work, their brains are already cooked. You have to be careful with everything, they say salt is dangerous, sugar is dangerous. Some illegal drugs are definitely more dangerous than others, for example opiates like heroin are not brain damaging but socially damaging. You get hooked on them, you need money, you steal from people, you end up in jail. And you can get a disease from shooting up. They don’t damage your brain, they damage your social life, and also your liver. With most ex-junkies, their liver is ready to implode.
Have you ever tried ayahuasca?
Yeah I’ve done ayahuasca many times. It’s weird because it can be blissful or very scary, but there is something rewarding if you do it with the right people. If you do it with the wrong people you can be brainwashed, you should do it in the right context with very straight people. Still, it’s a very alienating experience. Sometimes you feel like your mind has been possessed because the thoughts or the visions you can have drinking ayahuasca or smoking DMT are so far from your everyday perception that they seem like they were put into your brain from another dimension. I haven’t done that much but some people say it s really rewarding.
Which one of your movie characters would you like to be reincarnated as?
Wow! Who is the only hero in my movie? I wouldn’t want to be reincarnated as the guy in Enter the Void, nor his sister. Maybe I would enjoy being the butcher in Stand Alone.
Because he is more simple, more animal. I wouldn’t want to be Vincent Cassel in Irreversible who gets his girlfriend raped.
How about the other guy in Enter the Void, the friend?
Oh yeah! That could work, I wouldn’t mind to be Alex the painter, the best friend of the guy who died. He has a good life and he fucks the girl at the end of the movie. He’s the one who takes the trophy at the end of the movie; I could play that part.