Written and directed by Gaspar Noé. Starring Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, Aomi Muyock, Gaspar Noé, Benoît Debie, Vincent Maraval.
The first thing you’ll read about Love, the latest film from Gaspar Noé: it’s a 3D porn film (or more accurately, a film that contains numerous scenes of explicit sex, shot in 3D).
The second thing you’ll read about Love, from any review: how tame the film really is. Yes, after I Stand Alone, Irreversible, and Enter the Void, the enfant terrible of French cinema continues to get less controversial in each outing.
But what you might not read is this: Love is a surprisingly tender and affectionate film that attempts to explore the relationship between love and sex, and how an audience reacts to a stripped-down, frank onscreen portrayal of both. And it just about succeeds.
Oh, and there’s a sequence in which a character ejaculates towards the camera and onto the audience in shocking 3D. Well, that’s a first.
Love opens with a minutes-long sex scene between two characters we have yet to be introduced to. You can compare this to cut-rate porno, but the director’s staging and shooting – a single bird’s-eye view shot drenched in high-contrast deep reds – lets you know that this is something else.
In the age of the internet, we’ve all seen onscreen (though perhaps not big screen) depictions of explicit sex. But we’ve rarely seen them depicted in the casual-yet-artistic manner that Noé employs in Love, which falls somewhere on the spectrum between 70s arthouse erotica and contemporary XXX.
Later in the movie, when we get to know these characters, the sex becomes something different as the details of their relationship color the nature of the sex scenes, and vice versa.
It’s both less pornographic, because the explicit scenes are shown to give greater insight into these characters rather than provide salacious thrills, and more revealing as nature of these scenes gives us greater insight into these characters than we would traditionally get (not that, necessarily, we would want or need it).
Much of the takes place in a single setting: a Paris apartment where expatriate and aspiring filmmaker Murphy (Karl Glusman) lives with Omi (Klara Kristin) and their young son. But Murphy isn’t satisfied with his life, we learn via some quickly (and thankfully) abandoned voiceover narration, and a phone call sends him into an opium-fueled despair trip.
The call is from the mother of Electra (Aomi Muyock), Murphy’s previous girlfriend, who hasn’t heard from her daughter in months. Murphy and Electra were madly in love, but suffered through a messy breakup when Omi became pregnant.
The rest of the film – in non-linear fragments – details the relationship between Murphy and Electra through flashbacks, from meeting on the streets of Paris to love to infidelity to sexual exploration, as Murphy bemoans the great love of his life, now lost.
This central premise is affectionate and insightful, and the prevalent sex scenes – which take up, roughly, half an hour of screen time, give us a unique look into these character’s relationships. Still, the film’s climactic scenes reach too far and get a laugh (“Life is hard!”), and I’m not so sure that’s what the director intended.
Noé appears onscreen as Electra’s ex-boyfriend and a gallery owner, and DVDs of his previous films show up in Murphy’s bookcase; the self-indulgent nature of the film might indicate a certain level of autobiographical reflection, but the detached nature with which he views his protagonist seems to suggest otherwise.
The acting from the leads is better than expected: Kristin and (especially) Muyock bare all for the camera – physically and emotionally – in their screen debuts, and while Murphy is not a likable character, Glusman – giving off the aura of a Justin Timberlake or young Michael Shannon – is an engaging presence throughout.
Two huge plusses that make this long (135-minute) film worth watch even when the story fails to fully draw us in: camerawork and music. Cinematography by Noé veteran Benoît Debie (who also appears in the film as a shaman) is drenched in the director’s trademark deep hues, but static and carefully edited to accommodate for 3D, it’s an entirely different feel than his previous swirly-cam features.
The music is an eclectic and wide-ranging mix of pre-existing material that includes Glenn Gould, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, and Erik Satie, along with tracks from some cult 1970s films. I never thought I’d hear the theme from Cannibal Holocaust or John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 over a sex scene, but that’s what we have here (my favorite: the creepy children’s theme from Dario Argento’s Deep Red, used in one of the early “innocent” sex sequences).
Outside of the ejaculation scene, there’s little reason to see Love in three dimensions. In fact, I found the 3D particularly distracting through many of the scenes, as I attempted to make out the classic film posters and DVD titles in the blurred background during slower portions of the movie.
Love isn’t a total success, but it’s well worth checking out for fans of the director and offbeat cinema, packed with nods and direct references to previous films. With this film and Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, audiences are getting unusually candid explorations of sexuality on the big screen.