Bringing sex to the screen in glorious, terrifying 3D, Gaspar Noé’s Love offers a long hard look at love, sex and Gaspar Noé.
Enter The Voidby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Welcome to the world of Gaspar Noé. And it’s a curious cosmos of drugs, sex, film and love. Much like the oneiric pleasures of Enter The Void, Gaspar Noé’s vision of Love is a familiar yet strangely seductive universe, with its seedy underworld of sex and drugs, its slowly sweeping camerawork and a haunting score of Satie’s Gymnopédies. Yet while expectations might be low for a 3D sex film, this is New French Extremism at its most extreme and Noé’s ambitions are high, setting himself – despite the film’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek title – the grandiose ambition of uncovering the secrets of love.
Murphy (Karl Glusman) is an American in Paris – a film student and wannabe director spat out by the City of Love after falling head over heels for Electra (Aomi Muyock) – only to mess it up when he’s unable to resist a fling with next-door neighbour Omi (Klara Kristin). Now trapped in a loveless relationship with Omi and their baby Gaspar, Murphy reflects – with a stash of opium that Electra once gifted him – on The One that got away. Like Noé’s groundbreaking Irréversible, Murphy remembers their love affair backwards – from break-up to their first meeting. But infused with Murphy’s Law which states (in unmissably large format across the screen) that anything that can go wrong will, Murphy reveals his story of life running away from him – undone by a broken condom and an irresistible, addictive urge for sex.
Electra describes Murphy as the man who can’t love. And in a way Love is a testimony to cinema’s most powerful emotion through its absence, Noé unable (or unwilling) to conjure the celestial strings of falling in love or the subtle negotiations of a relationship, focusing instead on the physicality of sex and the painful, nostalgic realisation that love was allowed to slip away unnoticed. And while Noé reveals the purpose of his film within the film – to tell a love story through sex – there’s more to Love than just the already notorious orgasms and ejaculations. Much like Courbet’s A L’Origine du Monde or Manet’s Olympia in their day, the film’s matter-of-fact sexual confrontations – in glorious 3D – are shocking. But at its heart Love is the story of one man’s inadequacy – unable to rise to the rigours of love; unable to commit and unsure if he’s in love or just in lust.
And there’s a pornographic honesty to Murphy’s story. Love‘s finest revelations come in its slicing of sexual ethics, with the lovers’ exchange of broken promises and jealousies or the changing morality of sex, as “open-minded” Murphy is forced to confront his limits, as orgies and threesomes hit dangerous ground when he finds himself in bed with Electra and a transvestite. But, with an awkwardly on-the-nose script and occasionally flat dialogue, Love is very much a male fantasy – not so much the 3D sex – but with a muscled jock acting as the director’s stand-in and a love interest that looks like an angel, behaves like a whore in bed, and screams like a banshee when they split up – the crazed and clichéd femme fatale of (male-directed) French cinema that stretches all the way from Beineix’s Betty Blue to Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days.
Beyond its surface story though, Love is a sticky miasma of self references. There’s American film student Murphy, the director’s proxy, with film posters plastered on the walls of his Paris apartment and a model of the Love Hotel from Enter The Void standing proud in his bedroom, as if Love was just another trip – only this time based on oxytocin and adrenaline (and opium), rather than psychotropics. And then there’s Electra’s ex – gallery owner Noé, and baby Gaspar. Enough self-references to make us question the fictional reality of Love; is it really a sexy love story or a director’s onanistic vision, permeating every corner of the screen like kaleidoscopic ejaculate?
A confused miasma of interconnections, Love feels a little too knowing – what with Murphy and his Murphy’s Law and Electra with her daddy complex – and Noé’s film ultimately falls away to nothing, crumbling under the weight of its intertextual ambitions. Familiar but daring, clichéd yet ambitious, Love defies both classification and expectation. So maybe it does feel a little bit like love, after all.
Love is released on 20th November 2015 in the UK