– Summary –
Director : Gaspar Noe
Year Of Release : 2015
Principal Cast : Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyok, Klara Kristin, Deborah Revy, Isabelle Nicou, Gaspar Noe, Frank Wiess, Norman Jaques.
Approx Running Time : 135 Minutes
Synopsis: Murphy is an American living in Paris who enters a highly sexually and emotionally charged relationship with the unstable Electra. Unaware of the effect it will have on their relationship, they invite their pretty neighbour into their bed.
They say cinema should stretch the boundaries of exploring the human condition. Gaspar Noe’s latest film – his fourth feature – Love, shot in Paris and starring a trio of unknown performers, is essentially art-house pornography, wrapped around a paper-thin fable of, well, love. Featuring graphic sex and nudity, including a three minute opening shot of a couple engaging in fondling each other’s genitals until orgasm is achieved (yeah, it’s full on), Love is an attempt by Noe to provoke a reaction from cineasts the world over; known for his graphic depictions of sex and violence, Noe’s previous films include the much maligned Into The Void, as well as my personal albatross, Irreversible (a film I’ve seen but still can’t decide whether it was outrageously vile or magnificently operatic), and Love is no different.
The premise involves young American film student Murphy (Karl Glusman) living in Paris with his girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyok), who becomes involved in a sexual way with his neighbour, Omi (Klara Kristin); ostensibly Omi becomes a participant in the film’s lengthy ménage à trois, but after a bout of one-on-one intercourse, in which Murphy’s condom breaks, Omi becomes pregnant. In a rage, Electra leaves. As the film opens, we learn that Murphy and Omi are raising their son together, although Murphy constantly regrets his mistake and pines for Electra. Electra’s mother contacts Murphy to let him know his ex girlfriend is missing, and this sends Murphy into a spiral of reminiscing about the events leading up to, and following, their angry split.
While it will undoubtedly draw a crowd for the depiction of its sex scenes, and there’s a lot of them in this 2-hour-plus film, Love is primarily a story of relationships, and how utter infatuation can lead to people doing some stupid, stupid things. Noe’s visual style trumps storytelling intricacy – the film is Kubrickian in its manner, particularly the sex scenes which come across as romantic and passionate as a hip replacement, filmed with an unblinking, somewhat sterile manner (the film’s boast of being in 3D isn’t a key selling point, really) – but the heart and soul, the characters, don’t really manifest depth of care many less controversial films might enjoy.
Whereas previous cinematic ventures into graphic sexual activity have yielded results that work superbly (see Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Nymphomaniac, and even Shortbus), Love’s insistence on bodily fluids and pornographic physical explorations aren’t up to similar intricate interweavings. In those three previous films mentioned, the sex scenes are an integral part of the story – particularly Blue Is The Warmest Colour – but here they don’t quite manifest as effortlessly. Noe’s Irreversible saw Monica Bellucci and real-world husband Vincent Cassell spend a great deal of screen time nude together, but the story almost demanded that. Love simply uses the sex, most of which is typically passionate, with one exception of what I’ve heard described as “make up sex” being particularly vigorous, as a platform for the audience to participate as voyeurs. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and one I’m not entirely sure is a valid response to such a divisive film. The question of whether the nudity and depictions of ejaculation and interior vaginal penetration enhance the story, or merely prolong the film at the expense of character brevity remains.
The inexperienced cast, almost none of whom have appeared on film before (surprise surprise, could you imagine Amy Adams agreeing to make this movie? LOLz!) perform well, considering Noe’s legendary style of extemporizing on set. Glusman, who kicks off the film with a money shot of his own, brings a masculine rage to Murphy that’s truly contemporary, lost in his own unrequited passion for the woman he has lost – perhaps forever. While tenderness towards the child he’s fathered is pacifistic, his blinkered frustration at his self-inflicted relationship with Omi provides a lot of the film’s angst, moreso than his breakup with Electra. Both Muyok and Kristin, who début on screen here, are just luminous in their respective roles. Muyok gives the fiery Electra a real sense of European roguery, a sense of mystery and the unattainable (even though Murphy has attained her as the film opens), while Kristin’s Omi is the beautific, sensual neighbour most good porn films embody – she’s sexy, up for a threesome, and utterly dependent on Murphy emotionally once she falls pregnant.
Love’s assaultive sexuality is easily written off as a vanity project for Noe; were this any other director, say Catherine Breillat (who directed the forgettably cold but utterly sexual Romance, as well as the more recent Anatomy of Hell, which touches on similar themes to Love) then it would be pure artistry, but with Noe at the helm you get the sense that he’s making this purely for the vituperousness of it all. At least, I found the film bone-crunchingly distant, like trying to relate to the mating habits of a preying mantis. I’m sure there’s some kind of contemplative upshot (ha) to Love, but I struggled with it, I really did.