By John Esther | November 13, 2015
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, Ugo Fox, Juan Saavedra, Aaron Pages, Isabelle Nicou, Benoît Debie
Not surprising, because nothing should be surprising when one goes to see a film by writer-director Gasper Noé (Irreversible; Enter the Void), in the opening scene of his latest film, Love, a woman named Electra (Aomi Muyock) and a man named Murphy (Karl Glusman) are fingering the genitals of each other. His cock is as hard as rock (a stiffy in cinema!) while she is just squeaky wet. The scene does not end until he ejaculates — money shot and all.
Clearly, the two are in love.
With the cinematic blink of an eye, which Noé used masterfully in Enter the Void, Murphy now occupies his bed with Omi (Klara Kristen). It is New Year’s Day and their son, Noe (Jean Couteau), is screaming in the other room. As Murphy goes to retrieve the boy, we learn Murphy is suffering from veisalgia (AKA a hangover) and has been hung out to dry up in a relationship he does not want.
That same day, Electra’s mother, Nora (Isabelle Nicou), contacts Murphy. She has not heard from her daughter in months and she is worried about her daughter’s state of health, state of mind. Much to Murphy’s lament, he has not seen the love of his life for a considerable time. This triggers his recollections of his life together with Electra.
For the next two hours, Love goes back and forth in time — mostly in the past — to illustrate the rise, highs, lows, blows and demise of Murphy and Electra. Basically, Murphy screwed it up by screwing the wrong woman. Now the American in Paris (the so-called “City of Love”) is stuck in a loveless relationship with a much younger French woman (a minor by US standards) and a child he did not plan on having. (Hey, if you are going have sexual relations with a known anti-choice female, you better be prepared to go the reproducing distance if your testicle soup bubbles inside her fertile cauldron.)
Offered in both 3D and 2D, Love is nowhere as violent, volatile or as vicious as Noé’s two previous, somewhat notorious, films. In fact there is little physical violence in Love, but there is a great amount of emotional violence attempted and committed, particularly by Murphy to Electra.
A typical American with repressed feelings about sexuality and freedom, Murphy wishes to possess Electra. Electra assures him that her body is only for her and him (unless they agree otherwise), but the mere thought of others desiring Electra or the reality that she has had previous lovers often sends Murphy into a violent rage. The large qualities of drugs and alcohol do not help his machismo behavior, either.
Far outweighing the violence are the numerous scenes of graphic sex. A direct counterpoint to American cinema where violence is graphic and sex is sterile, Love goes literally balls out in its depiction of sex. Yet the sex scenes are not for titillation purposes (although you may want to think twice before sitting in front of anybody in the theater wearing a long raincoat), but rather as an expression of sexuality as part of the human condition as well as human communication. Through their acts of lovemaking, Murphy and Electra learn to understand each other and something about themselves (she more so than him). It would be silly to have this going on under the sheets, away from gazing eyes of the audience, just to suit puritanical needs at the expense of artistic integrity.
Speaking of the gazing eyes of cinema, in one hilarious scene, Noé spews the traditional male gaze right back in the peepers with help of 3D. No worries, those glasses will protect your eyes. “But what about the rest of me?” Just put the happy spit on the popcorn. “Wait, what?” But I digress…
In terms of acting, the film certainly has a few really bad moments — leaving some viewers to cringe about something non-sexual in the film. For the most part, Glusman and the relatively inexperienced Kristen and Muyock do an ample job (certainly when you compare the acting found in XXX cinema) — largely improvising the dialogue, revealing their bodies and themselves in ways few actors, certainly well known ones, would venture. But powerful acting is not particularly necessary in the films of Noé. Noé, like Michelangelo Antonioni, Alfred Hitchcock, or Stanley Kubrick (Murphy’s favorite film is 2001: A Space Odyssey), uses his actors more as props, synecdoches, or ideas rather than as people who are there to give phenomenal acting performances — although Monica Bellucci (Alex) and Vincent Cassell (Marcus) are ferociously good in much of Irreversible.
(Speaking of Bellucci and Cassel — who are married in real life — the two were originally cast to make Love with Noé, but then they changed their minds when Noé changed the script and informed them that the cum would not necessarily be simulacrum, but rea-lather authentic.)
The film also looks great. Shot by cinematographer Benoît Debie with art direction by Virginie Verdeaux and co-edited by Noé and Denis Bedlow, Love is a lovely film to watch. The colors, the rhythms, and Pascal Mayer’s music supervision add up to one of the more dynamic and fulfilling films of the year.
However, having written that, Love does suffer from an emphasis on male sex and pleasure. While Murphy ejaculates more than his share in the film, there is barely a hint of any orgasm from the female characters. There are certainly ample scenes of female pleasure, but where is the clitoral climax? Why does not Electra have a chance to get close up with her lady bits and just cascade down the camera? Inquiring wives want to know. Murphy’s orgasms are obvious, unavoidable to watch, yet there are no scenes of female ejaculations or squirting (a la porn parlance) or gals gushing across the theater in 3D. (I have not seen the film in 2D.)
It is a point to be made and one in keeping with Noé’s somewhat continual problematic attitudes toward how sexuality is treated in his films. There is an element of homophobia in Irreversible as gay (or bisexual) men appear to be nothing more than prone to drugs and rape and nobody better get in the way of some non-gay men who want revenge on said bad gay guys. (The fact Noé masturbated at the gay club in the film is, frankly, irrelevant.)
In Enter the Void, Oscar (Nathanial Brown) enters the eyesight of someone having sex with his sister (Paz de la Huerta). Later, he travels back to the point in time when he was conceived by his parents (Janice Béliveau-Sicotte and Simon Chamberland) — dad’s penis ejaculates in mom’s vagina and there go those running spermatozoa, swimming for the human race with Oscar floating right behind. A seaman of a different sort.
On a lesser note, there is also this annoying, silly phenomena in Love where barely anyone speaks French. Other than Murphy, everyone in the film is French. Yet, with very few examples — like during a fantastic fight scene in a Taxi Cab — nobody speaks French in this film set in Paris, France. Even French people in Love speak English on their answering machines. C’est ne pas vrai.
Nonetheless, Love offers a lot more than most films attempting to convey human interaction or attempting to understand human love and its intercourse with sex. It is certainly more honest than most films, and one an American filmmaker — at least at level of the Argentine-French Noé — could not make without incurring the wrath of the those Americans who are less endowed yet more sexually frustrated than the likes of Murphy.