Directed by: Gaspar Noé.
Written by: Gaspar Noé.
Starring: Aomi Muyock (Electra), Karl Glusman (Murphy), Klara Kristin (Omi), Ugo Fox (Gaspar), Juan Saavedra (Julio), Aaron Pages (Noe), Isabelle Nicou (Nora), Benoît Debie (Yuyo), Vincent Maraval (Castel), Déborah Révy (Paula), Xamira Zuloaga (Lucile), Stella Rocha (Mami), Omaima S. (Victoire).
The history of non-pornographic movies using real, un-simulated sex isn’t particularly filled with masterpieces. The gold standard is probably John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus (2006), which captured sex in all its messy, funny glory. For the most part though, when directors really want to use real sex in a non-pornographic movie with real sex, they tend to overdo it a little bit – making the films so serious, that it robs the sex of any feeling of joy. Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs for instance is a long slog – 9 sex scenes intercut with 9 concert scenes – that chart the ending of a relationship, which reduces sex to mere friction. Gaspar Noe’s Love is groundbreaking for being – as far as I know – the first one of these films to be made in 3-D – although, to be honest, that seemed fairly unnecessary to me. It almost falls into the trap that Winterbottom’s film did – reducing sex to thrusting, grunting, friction – but not quite. Some of the sex scenes are rather dull – and a bit of a slog – but he also captures the pure pleasure of sex better than most of the other films I have seen. The non-sex scenes in Love vary wildly in quality – the acting isn’t particularly great, and disappointingly, Noe doesn’t seem to have many “new” ideas about men and women – it’s yet another woman of an insecure guy who uses his girlfriend’s sexuality against her. It’s an interesting, not altogether successful film – but like everything Noe does, it is worth seeing.
The film jumps around in time, and tells the story of the doomed relationship between Murphy (Karl Glusman) and Electra (Aomi Muyock). They are already done by the time the movie opens – the result of Murphy getting another girl, Omi (Klara Kristin) pregnant. He’s now with Omi, but still cannot stop thinking about Electra – especially after he receives a phone call from her mother saying she hasn’t heard from her in a few months, and is very worried. His relationship with Omi is bad – he loves his son, but never really loved Omi – we will see in flashbacks the broken condom that was the reason she got her pregnant in the first place, as well as the threesome between Murphy, Electra and Omi that began the sexual relationship between them. That was fine with Electra – but him seeing her without her was not. And it is not the first time he has cheated on her – as the movie will eventually make clear.
In general, Love does move mainly backwards in time – starting at the end, and taking us right back to the moment Murphy and Electra had met, and first had sex. The opening scenes are the most dire – the closing the most hopeful. In this way, it resembles Noe’s Irreversible – which opened with a brutal murder, went back to the rape that inspired the murder, and ended with scenes of love. But this time, Noe doesn’t as strictly adhere to that timeline, as it jumps around in time more than most. Noe, I think smartly, doesn’t make the film nothing but a dull slog at the beginning, and save all the good stuff for the end. While some of the sex scenes in the movie are mechanical and unfeeling – they are that way by design. And he never goes too long without giving the audience a sex that is genuinely erotic (the previously mentioned three-way is just that).
The film isn’t as groundbreaking or visually stunning as Noe’s last film – Enter the Void (a film I think I was probably a little too hard on when I reviewed it a few years ago out of TIFF). The sex scenes are well done and undeniably Noe’s work – but the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to them. If Noe is showing us things we don’t often see before, visually, (largely, I think the 3-D is unnecessary, but it has moments where it works) – the story is as old as they come. Murphy is jealous of Electra’s sexuality – her experiences before he came into her life, as well as the things she willingly does with him – no matter whose idea they are, if they don’t go as he intended, she gets the blame. Murphy, an America living in Paris, is (according to everyone in the movie) to possessive – too American – in his attitudes towards sex and women. Noe’s ideas here aren’t really new here – and he is hampered by the performance of Glusman as Murphy, who really cannot act. The two women fair better – but Noe views them through Murphy’s lens – which is to say as objects, and not three dimensional characters, so there isn’t as much for them to play.
Noe remains an interesting director to watch – who is genuinely provocative in many ways. Yet, he also remains less of a writer than a director – marrying interesting images and ideas, with rather mundane stories. If he writes a better screenplay – or more likely got someone else to write one for him – he may well make a great film. As it stands, Love is like his other work – provocative and interesting, but also a little empty.