DIR/WRI: Gaspar Noé • Pro: Brahim Chaoiu, Vincent Maravel, Gaspar Noé, Rodrigo Teixeira, Edouard Weil • ED: Denis Bedlow, Gaspar Noé • DOP: Benoit Debie • Mus: Pascal Mayer • CAST: Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, Klara Kristin
Relentless provocateur Gaspar Noé returns to our screens with this sexually-explicit opus which follows an American film student living in Paris, Murphy (Glusman) and his doomed love affair with the depressive, fiery, sexually experimental Elektra (Muyock) and his subsequent fall into parenthood and domesticity with another woman Omi (Kristin), whom he does not love. We piece together the story of Murphy and Elektra’s stormy affair through flashbacks to episodes in their time together, intercut with the present, as Murphy muses how he’s gotten himself into this situation.
Since the film’s premiere at Cannes much has been made of the film’s sexual frankness and the fact that it was shot and is presented in 3D.The sex and 3D in fact turn out to be the least notable aspects on show here. The former is pervasive and hardcore, but this is hardly anything new in arthouse cinema. The idea of the director of Enter the Void making a film in 3D certainly seemed like an interesting proposition but for the most part the 3D effects seem unnecessary. There is the odd moment when Noé uses it interestingly, generally in scenes outside of the bedroom, such as a fiery argument between Murphy and Elektra in the back of a taxi and also in a couple of nightclub scenes in which the effect captures an atmosphere and dreaminess that seems fresh. For the most part the effect is used in a subtle way and Noe resists the temptation to fling things at the audience, apart from one shot in which Murphy ejaculates out into the crowd. Well, this is a Gaspar Noé film after all.
Noé himself has stated (as does Murphy, who is clearly a surrogate for Noé in the film) that what he wanted to do was to make a film exploring sexual sentimentality. Indeed, Noé allows far more sweetness and sentimentality into Love than encountered in his previous, aggressive pictures I Stand Alone, Irreversible and Enter the Void. Noé himself has compared it to Love to Blue is the Warmest Colour in its emotional and physical frankness. There are times in the film when this works and Noé does capture something raw, honest, sad and, indeed, beautiful. Unfortunately, however, these moments are far too few and instead the viewer most endure lots of silliness, indulgences, wretched dialogue and indifferent acting on its way to climax.
Noé has argued there is a continued conservative attitude to showing sex in films and has suggested to really examine romance one must examine the sexual side of it in the same manner as all other things. This is a fair point and his use of Blue is the Warmest Colour as an example of a counterpoint is a good one in that it did achieve these goals. In that infinitely superior picture the viewer was submerged into all aspects of the couple’s relationship. This was achieved through an intense attention to detail of which explicit sex was a part of, but also through the relatability of the characters, and through profoundly brilliant acting from the leads.
After a decent, sober start it does not take long for Love to plunge headlong into pure male fantasy. Poor Murphy’s problems with Elektra, you see, stem from them having a threesome with their 17-year-old neighbour Omi. They do this because its Elektra’s biggest sexual fantasy to have sex with a man and another girl. Of course. Following this, when Elektra is away for the weekend, Murphy just can’t help himself once more and has to have sex with Omi again, this time by himself, at which point he impregnates her and so ends his romance with the love of his life.
To be fair to Noé, he never suggests that Murphy is a character we should necessarily like but it is a grave mistake on his part to allow what could have been an interesting, moving look at lost love to become so far removed from its intentions by indulging in such (ahem) hard to swallow contrivances. And it’s not just here that the film emits dubious and depressingly conservative attitudes to sex and gender. There is an ear-bleedingly banal conversation about abortion, not to mention a tasteless and unnecessary scene in which Elektra coaxes Murphy into having (another) threesome – this time with a transsexual prostitute – which is played somewhat for laughs. At one point early on Murphy also states that he fears if he leaves Omi she might turn his son ‘gay’.
There are other problems beyond the weary conservatism on show. Noé seems determined to shoehorn as much of himself as he possibly can into the film. It’s already been noted that Murphy is a surrogate for Noé himself: he’s an aspiring filmmaker with a taste for the controversial, his apartment is adorned with posters for Salo and Birth of a Nation, his favourite film is 2001 (which is also Noé’s). On top of this Murphy and Omi name their child Gaspar and, most hilariously, Noé himself turns up in a bad wig as an art dealer ex-boyfriend of Elektra’s. There’s a strong whiff of Tarantino at his most indulgent about this aimless self-reflexivity. There’s nothing wrong with a filmmaker being self-referential but it needs to be done with wit or to a purpose, both of which are lacking here.
There is no question, however, that Noé is an extremely talented filmmaker. He has exhibited great formal innovation in his previous works. It is the opinion of this writer, however, that his ideas are not as good as his practise. Irreversible is a powerfully realised film but that too was somewhat bogged down by simplistic philosophies and ideologies. Enter the Void – his best film – managed to transcend some on the nose dialogue, due to the sheer originality of its form.
Love is a deeply frustrating film. For all the seemingly endless flaws it has, it still retains some unquestionably brilliant flourishes and moments. Noé continues to experiment with the idea of a cinema of subjectivity. The blinking of the main character’s point of view in Enter the Void is used here once again to break through time. For example Murphy might one moment be in a room with Omi, the image will blink like a person would, and all of a sudden he will be in a different place and time, most likely with Elektra. This beautifully conjures up the mosaic like nature of memory and its role in human relationships and experiences.
It’s also beautifully shot by Noé regular Benoit Debie, it features some terrific use of music and sound, and at its best it really does touch upon a kind of insanity and tenderness all too rarely seen in films about romance. It’s just such a shame then that it is all weighed down so heavily by Noé’s adolescent world-view.
135 minutes (See IFCO for details)
Love is released 20th November 2015