‘Love’ – Gaspar Noe (2015)

Love or hate him, there’s Noe to ignore his work.



“I want to make movies out of blood, sperm and tears – this is the essence of life!”

– Murphy, Love (2015).

The forth feature length work from Argentine virtuoso of the disconcerting, Gaspar Noe (Irreversible, Enter The Void, Seul Contre Tous), marks a notable break in thematic content from much of his earlier material, if perhaps a slight lull in its technical accomplishment and unabashed innovation by comparison to his past efforts.
The film revolves around the impassioned but tumultuous relationship and varied sexual encounters of couple Murphy (Karl Glusman; Ratter, Embers) and Electra (Aomi Muyock, previously unknown) and their polyamorous exploration of post-modern sexuality, set against the backdrop of a contemporary Parisian landscape.
Murphy, a burgeoning ex-pat film-maker and Electra, an aspirational young art student ultimately traverse the pitfalls and peaks of true love and its trials as told primarily through the narrative of sex as the focal point for relationships. The film shadows them through intense ménage à trois encounters, group sex at a swingers club, drug use in dingy rented apartments, public intercourse, high society gatherings and through the mundanity of being trapped inside a loveless monogamous unit, all part and parcel with a Gaspar Noe flick. Where the film tries to differ however from its predecessors, and indeed from its contemporaries in the field is that in Love, the protagonists are, well, in love, with no further catalyst for drama (i.e. on-screen death, rape, overdose, incest) being necessary. This is as close to a take on something more quaint and relatable as anything Noe has tried before, while being a quintessentially ‘him’ production. In an interview last year with IndieWire, Noe stated that; “I just wanted to portray sexual passion as much as possible, because in real-life it’s very common, but you don’t see it properly portrayed onscreen.”
But did one of the iconoclasts of boundary-pushing post-modernism achieve an accurate and passionate, sex driven yet still efficacious dissection of young love with his latest endeavour?


Perhaps unfairly, Gaspar Noe’s work is often lumped in with colloquially termed ‘Shock Cinema’, films with contention at the forefront of their narratives. Often produced with a single aim viewed through a constrictive Hollywood-centric lens, very often lacking in depth and substance (Hostel, Human Centipede 1), films that are made exclusively to spark controversy. As a fan of Gaspar Noe and his back-catalogue, I’d have to say that this falls short as an analysis of any of his feature lengths. While his work and name have been rightfully included as an iconoclast in the French new Wave Extremity movement, nothing in the early endeavours of the younger Noe smacks of the B-movie gratuity or exploitative two-dimensionality expected from American and British cinema goers. Even the unrelenting and notorious Irreversible (2002) with its eleven minute uncut still-cam rape scene, in which some critics (as with Love) walked out or vomited part way through, is book-ended with heaps of context. There has always been a realism and twisted tenderness at points that juxtaposes and illuminates the moments of gut-wrenching savagery (with the possible exception being large portions of Seul Contre Tous). Nevertheless, the French Extremity scene as a whole takes as much from the dissociative and reflective Arthur Rimbaud or early Godard (Weekend, 1967) as it does from Pasolini, and while contention is very often a focus by Noe and his contemporaries (Coralie Trinh Thi: Baise Moi, 2000 or Leos Carax, Pola X, 1999 to name just two) it is rarely the heart and soul of the work.

In Gaspar Noe land, never more so has this been the case than with Love. Love is here to depict something far more commonplace than any of his previous works, if anything it’s here to highlight the fear of the commonplace within cinema, and the shock that’s placed on something as natural as sex, specifically the male penis, by showing it in all its unadulterated glory. Arguably audiences react much more pleasantly to seeing people get killed in countless horrific ways on screen than we do to actual hard-core fucking. We come to expect that within the horror/action/thriller/war genres (among others) that people will be dismembered, shot, stabbed, beaten, blown up or smashed through buildings, and it’s something that carries through from Superhero flicks to Hammer Horror nasties. What we always find cause for nervousness regarding, however is sex, which is why a film by a typically provocative director such as Noe, who has purposely shied away from out-and-out violence in his latest work, sees fit to challenge this convention. Somehow problematically though, because of the way this particular film has been approached, an element of the spectacle may have been lost at certain points. Not because the film needs to be more extreme but unfortunately for Love, by sheer virtue of the fact that the in-between spaces of the film needed to have been fleshed out a great deal more. Glossing over (so to speak) the 3D ejaculatory shots of a full frontal erect penis, and the fantastic stroboscopic group sex scenes featured later on, and the dubious transsexual (almost) encounter, the subject matter of the film is more heavily steeped in loss and tragedy than it is in shared bodily fluids. All well and good, but it doesn’t really break the mould as standout film-making in anything but the erotic scenes, which Noe has always done with great artistic flare and biting effect, often without the need for any dialogue at all (check out his short film ‘We Fuck Alone’ for the 2006 Destricted series and his three sensually unsettling adverts made with Eva Herzigova, for proof). Love at points checks all the trademark boxes for what you would expect of a director pushing the boundaries in his field, but somewhere along the line falls a little flat.


The film’s opening scene is of uncut still-camera mutual masturbation between Electra and Murphy, clearly deep in the throes of passion, and it kind of feels as if this is thrown in to assuage any audience apprehension about what to expect in the next two and a half hours, we think we know what we’re in for, and it’s genuinely exciting. For these scenes especially, directorial intervention really took a back-seat, and this really shines through, as the actors really are having sex, the feeling is there, and the Cinemascope production combined with the uninhibited ease with which the three young stars interact unexpectedly leaves nothing about the scenes feeling pornographic or sordid. In part to thank for that is the brilliant cinematography work of Benoît Debie (Enter The Void, Irreversible, Spring Breakers), under who’s hand these takes become stark and audacious, but never seedy. The way the sex with regards to casting was approached too was very interesting, with neither Aomi Muyock nor Klara Kristin having had any previous on screen experience to speak of, and both hand-picked by Gaspar at a party and asked if they’d like a part in a new film he was directing! In a sense this does give a fresh feel to the film, but sadly, with the intimate and risqué scenes totaling at no more than thirteen minutes of the 135 minute long feature, if anything Love could have used a little more action to pad out some of the more ponderous dialogue and re-hashed techniques from previous successes.

At points Murphy and his inner monologue can grate massively, as he blunders through his early twenties angst, reaching conclusions that for a film with as much potential as this can come across as a little inane, if anything; “Living with a woman is like sharing a bed with the CIA: nothing is secret”. On top of which, despite the films lust for an expression of sexual freedom and exploration, it kind of strikes a middle ground between films that have recently approached similar topics regarding post-modern sexual identity with either more tenderness (Blue Is The Warmest Colour), extremity (Shame or Nymphomaniac) or gender and sexuality diversity (Tangerine).


I think that largely, Love kind of suffers due to the content (or lack thereof) of the script, totaling as it does at only seven pages long (but by no means Gaspar Noes shortest). The problem with this is that with such emphasis being placed on the need for characterisation between the symptomatically kaleidoscopic drug sequences when the characters drink Ayahuasca, or the fierce and perfectly timed double strobe sequence during the gang sex scenes later on, this is a picture that struggles to deliver. Not enough attention has been paid to the female or supporting roles, which leaves us following a very narrowly heterosexual, moody and not overtly experimental leading man around, and while the emphasis is very much on the physicality of the relationships between the characters, this somehow isn’t employed enough to make this film as noticeable as you want it to be.

The concept for Love was actually an earlier concept within which he has originally wanted Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci to star, as a real life couple, but as they didn’t feel comfortable with the project it was shelved, Irreversible made, and Love revisited later in 2015 when it was felt it could be done justice. There are lots of nice little homages in it to other works; Murphy mentions that 2001: A Space Odyssey is his favourite film, and there are posters from Salo: Or The 120 Days Of Sodom and Taxi Driver hung on his walls, Noe actually appears in the film himself, as a character called Noe (of the Noe art gallery), and all of the characters have names which reference people close to the director and his life, or at least have double meanings with regard to psychological issues that affect men and women. There are lots of artistic little nods and easter eggs to be found throughout that a fan can snap up and have a great time with, but it feels at points that all of the trimmings are there almost arbitrarily. It’s fun, it makes the film more personal to the artist, but in order for these to add substance to the finished product, then the base ingredients have to be laid out first.

Love is by no means a “bad” film, and I wouldn’t want to give that impression entirely, but for someone so used to being not shocked, but definitely awed by the work of someone who at his best is a master of his field, this falls somewhat short. Despite dazzling with odd moments of real aesthetic and artistic beauty, which will definitely tip die-hard followers of Noe over into the ‘sold’ camp, this is sadly just not the film that it could have been, based on expectations from previous efforts. – 6/10


Runtime: 135 mins

Genre: Drama / Romance

Age Rating: 18

Film Distributor: Wild Bunch


So what do you think? Have a think and let us know in the comments section below.


Max Colbert



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