Certain filmmakers have a reputation for controversy and Gaspar Noe is certainly one of them. He’s the very talented Argentine filmmaker behind such polarizing films as “Irreversible” and “Enter the Void”, and he’s always had a penchant for pushing buttons as well as boundaries. Noe certainly has done so with his new film “Love.” His latest premiered on VOD earlier this week, and opened in theaters today. Perhaps its Friday the 13th release is fitting as its explicit sex and nudity onscreen will frighten away certain audiences. But for those who look, they will be rewarded by a haunting examination of a tempestuous relationship that is as raw in its emotions as it is in its nude bodies.
For all the romances that have been put onscreen, few really capture what relationships are really like. This one does. It portrays love and sex as messy, impulsive, and consuming, particularly at the early heady stages. And in the later parts, when love is dying, it takes an unflinching gaze at all the heartbreak, cruelty, and despair that comes with breakups. This is a companion piece for “Blue is the Warmest Color”, Abdellatif Kechiche’s brilliant examination of love and sex with a young lesbian couple. Here, the couple is heterosexual, and the facets of their lives together are equally as exhilarating and harrowing.
Noe’s two leads here are played by Karl Glusman and Aomi Myuck. They not only shed their clothing throughout the film, but they expose all the emotions that come with a couple that falls in love and lust too fast. Their work is fearless here, and they should be commended for meeting the demands of Noe’s script and direction. They may be new to the movies but their bravery stands with any performance onscreen this year.
Glusman plays Murphy, an American abroad who followed his girlfriend to Paris and broke up soon afterwards. Myuck plays Electra, the sweet free spirit, recently dumped, he meets next. They’re each other’s rebound and soon they’re as intensely involved again without really giving themselves time to take a breather from their previous relationships. Soon, they’re in an all-consuming duet, copulating in every form of love and lust, from the romantic (sightseeing Paris) to the carnal (so many sex scenes, you’ll lose count).
Noe is interested in showing how people really are in relationships and his depiction of sexuality is revolutionary. Movie sex tends to be all sweeping gestures and rhapsodic strings. Here, Noe shoots the subject more honestly. He shows how erratic, clumsy, sloppy, and even ugly it can be. Even the X-rated film world seldom captures such acts with as much accuracy. Noe isn’t just pushing nudity front and center, he’s showing the naked emotions behind all that fornication.
The filmmaker is daring too in his presentation of the characters as they are not all that admirable or likable. Murphy is an immature and selfish Neanderthal much of the time. The neighbor girl Omi (Klara Kristin) is a hot little minx in bed, hungrily devouring both Murphy and Electra, but when she becomes pregnant by Marcus and together they become reluctant parents, she becomes a dull and pragmatic housewife. Electra’s mom is a passive/aggressive nag. Electra’s older lover is a Lothario, preying on younger women. Even the friends and bystanders in this picture are none to admire. They’re selfish or sexist or both. The Paris setting may exemplify the personification of love in art and culture, but Noe is showing the unsightly parts of the City of Lights as well.
Sometimes, Noe overreaches in his metaphors and symbolism. And some of his dialogue is a bit too on-the-nose, like when budding filmmaker Marcus boasts at a party that he wants to be the first person to truly capture “sentimental sex” on film. That main character’s narration throughout can also be banal and even unnecessary at times.
Noe tends to choose obvious color choices too. When Marcus becomes a green-eyed monster, as he’s consumed by jealousy of Electra and her many admirers, Noe bathe the screen in just that color. We get it. Believe me, we get it.
But other times, Noe’s artistic flourishes play out spectacularly. His use of sound design, music and silence are masterful. He originally shot this film in 3D, and it’s a hoot! Erections bolt towards the lens in close-up and it’s hilarious. Cinematographer Benoit Debie’s lighting and framing is stirring and provocative throughout, ranging from the sensual to the sadistic to the sympathetic.
If you saw “Irreversible”, you know that Noe doesn’t cut away to spare his audience the harder to watch scenes. Seeing Monica Bellucci raped in “Irreversible” for almost ten uncut minutes led many audience members to bolt for the exit in outrage, but there was a reason for it. Noe was trying to show that rape is not over quickly and to cut away discreetly would trivialize it. Same with the unflinching qualities of so many scenes here. Noe fills the film with sex scene after sex scene because that’s what is at the core of Murphy and Electra’s relationship. When his jealousy starts to drive a wedge between them, their sex life suffers. Mourning becomes Electra as she realizes how little they really had to build a lasting foundation on.
“Love” is a film that may be difficult for some to embrace. But any film fan who’s interested in seeing cinema expand and deepen should see it. Noe may be too puckish for those who prefer safe love stories. But for those who are tired of Hollywood rom-com tripe and want a relationship movie that speaks far more frankly and effectively, “Love” is that film.