“For years I have dreamed of making a film that would fully reproduce the passion of a young couple in love, in all its physical and emotional excesses. A sort of amour fou, like the quintessence of that which my friends and I have lived. A contemporary melodrama incorporating multiple love scenes and transcending the ridiculous division that dictates no normal film can contain overtly erotic scenes, even though everyone loves to make love. I want to film that which cinema has rarely allowed itself, either for commercial or for legal reasons: to film the organic dimension of being in love. Although, in most cases, it’s here that the essence of the attraction within a couple lies. The starting position was to show intense passion in a natural way — animal, playful, joyous, tearful. Unlike my earlier films, for once it is about nothing other than sentimental violence and loving ecstasy.
Despite its modest budget, this colorful film, in CinemaScope, was shot in 3D thanks to the latest cameras. I hope that this decision will create a more immersive experience for the spectator. Facinated by three dimensional images for years I have taken an endless succession of photos in 3D, both analogue and digital. The stakes are even higher, and the experience more troubling, when one is filming a loved one who is dying. Returning later to the images, one has the feeling of having retained an almost living part of the person in a small box. A three-dimensional image gives the impression, albeit childish and illogical, of having seized the moment of the past far better than any flat image can. As this film relates the story of a lost love, I felt that 3D would allow the viewer a greater sense of identification with the lead character and his nostalgic state. In the same way, voiceover and the choice of music are used to better reflect the emotional failure of the protagonist, as lost in his acts as he is in his thoughts.”
–Gaspar Noé’s press release for Love.
It’s exactly what it appears to be. You needn’t look much further than the NSFW poster to catch a whiff: a highly stylized, explicitly sexualized film that makes in-your-face (almost too literal for comfort) demonstrations of its 3D gimmick. Ever the embracer of technological strides, Noé has here employed the traditionally gimmicky tool for a more immersive experience, to be as involved as possible without taking your clothes off. That said, what you do in the theater is your call. Despite the above mission statement, the visual cues and references within the film are undeniable; Love is an exploitation film, through and through. Arguably, all of Noé’s films (I Stand Alone, Irreversible, Enter the Void) have danced the line between exploitation and art. Equally arguable is Love’s standing as the most realized demonstration of that dichotomy’s union. The cinematography is gorgeous (much of it through a red filter), destined to portray the passionate sexuality within as sophisticated rather than smutty. Noé even makes overt, almost protruding, references to executors of artful exploitation: Deodato, Scorsese, Carpenter, Morrissey, Pasolini, and, yes, Noé himself.
Having already been accused of such, it is worth noting how, yes, Love is another example of Noé’s uninhibited egocentricity, which has (d)evolved into full-blown narcissism. Copies of I Stand Alone are among Murphy’s collection, perched just above a model of Enter the Void’s Love Hotel. During pillow talk with Electra (Aomi Muyock), Murphy suggests Gaspar as a potential baby name. Noé himself even appears as a gallery owner and former ex-lover of Electra. He also appears in the rare simulated sex scene. Because his character is an integral part of why the two lovers split, one could argue that, perhaps, it is a materialization of his directorial role. Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine another filmmaker even attempting such a film as Love. Because erotica is, at its best, a heightened representation of sexuality, who better to attempt it than a director who previously offered similar representations of disorientation and desperation in the wake of horrible sexual violence? Or the hallucinatory effects of DMT? Even if the film is, as a whole, not enjoyable, its uniqueness is worthy of merit.
And though conceptually notable, where Love often becomes muted is in its melodrama. An acknowledged component by Noé , the overly acted tussles, emotions, struggles between Murphy and Electra at their most jealous and angry can be distracting to the voyeur from truly believing that these two are, indeed, truly in love. Because the majority of the scenes here (portrayed as Murphy’s memories) are of sex, there’s a striking void of scenes of emotional intimacy. Because it is from one straight male’s point of view, one filled with longing and self-loathing, it is difficult to identify with Murphy past a certain point. The desperation and mourning is identifiable, but the over reliance on masturbatory memory brings up a distracting question: does Murphy miss Electra as a person, or a sexual partner? Perhaps, even more wrenching: his pain is possibly from the fact that the majority of his memories are sexual and superficial. Then again, if remembering the good times is what pulls Murphy from total self-annihilation, what better way to pull him into light than recalling the most intimate representation of attraction, even if it’s coupled with memories of infidelity?
But maybe this is a deliberately complex view of Noé’s design — not to make a statement that the most memorable parts of love are wholly sexual, but that they are memorable from this carnal point of view that is Murphy’s. At the open of the film (after the first of many unsimulated oral sex scenes), Murphy is hungover in his Paris apartment on a rainy New Year’s Day. We’re guided by an inner monologue full of self-loathing, one mourning his present condition: trapped in a relationship with Omi (Klara Kristin) and his baby Gaspar. He punishes himself for his sexual nature: “I’m a dick, and what does a dick do? Fuck.” Clumsily written, as Noé’s inner monologues tend to be, it illustrates what Murphy is: out of love. He does not love himself, and so, he cannot embrace the present. He can only look upon the past with romanticism and regret. He also mourns his powerlessness in bringing back Electra, who has, at the time of the new year, been missing for months and is prone to suicidal behavior. Murphy is, again, one of Noé’s many complicated, “problematic” male characters. In Irreversible, there was the drunken, homophobic buffoonery of Vincent Cassel, or the wounded, wimpy puppy of the ex-boyfriend. Then there is the bland host of our subjective/objective view in Enter the Void. Murphy is a little more well-formed, flawed, and thusly more human.
What of the film’s pure visual strength? Beginning with the William Castle-inspired bumper at the film’s start, Noé wastes no time establishing his focus. Romantic strings score a single, unbroken shot of the two lovers affectionately pleasuring each other. No strobing titles. No loud music. Noé allows the stark lack of inhibition speak for itself. The erotic scenes are as indulgent as one would expect from Noé, full of nudity and (because unblinking is the incorrect term, judging from Enter the Void) voyeurism. Though subjectivity enters occasionally, Love is predominately objective. We only know the sensations from a distance, and without shame. I’m unsure if Noé intends for audience to pleasure themselves in the theater, but don’t be too surprised if it occurs. To call it Noé’s most restrained film is selling it a bit short. The physical violence has been replaced by overarching emotional barbs. Some of the sex scenes themselves are often the most violent acts, as they are often bred from anger and jealousy and lead to more harm than good.
It is also Noé at his most cinephilic. Murphy (maybe Noé’s avatar), himself a young filmmaker, is surrounded by posters of Taxi Driver and Flesh for Frankenstein. He enjoys Noé’s favorite film 2001: A Space Odyssey as much as he enjoys performing cunnilingus (high five, buddy). He boasts the prospect of making films from “blood, cum and tears.” He is perhaps Noé’s most personal protagonist. The question of whether Noé fancies himself in league with his art/exploitation predecessors or a mere disciple, I suppose, depends on one’s impression of Noé. His themes, I believe, are simpler; Morrissey employed 3-D, horror, and erotic tropes out of contempt for the genres. The urban disarray of Taxi Driver and celebration of vigilantism reflected American history up through the Vietnam War to the contemporary. Salo’s scatological scenes attacked fascism. Maybe Noé is stepping up to use exploitation for reflecting beauty rather than ugliness, though he is also making a statement about cinema itself, and maybe even the emotional distance implied in pornography. Certainly, there’s a lot of Love that can (and will) be approached with disgust. But, in its own way, it may be Noé’s most appealing film to date.