2015, NR, 135 min. Directed by Gaspar Noé. Starring Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, Klara Kristin, Juan Saavedra, Aaron Pages, Stella Rocha.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Nov. 13, 2015
When the news hit that Argentine/French director Gaspar Noé's new film would be a long-gestating dream project involving lovers engaged in unsimulated sex and shot in 3-D, my first thought was, "Ugh." My second thought was, "There will be a penis ejaculating toward the audience at some point." Alas (or happily, depending on your fancy), I am here to report that that second prediction comes true around two-thirds into Love, as an erect member faces the camera and showers the viewer with semen, which then may or may not elicit that initial thought (alternative responses include: "Oh, Gaspar, you're so provocative!" and also, "Ew."). Unfortunately, I was unable to experience this sensation in its entirety, as the distributor couldn't provide a 3-D press screening for this review, so I was left to ponder its lesser, 2-D analog. Know that I will bear that burden for the rest of my years. But even without the extra dimension, I am here to say that as unabashedly unsubtle and self-indulgent as Noé’s films can be, the problem with Love has nothing to do with boners and body fluids, but rather the fact that Noé has made a sex-filled odyssey that, at the end of the day, is downright fucking boring.
Love concerns, first and foremost, Murphy (Glusman, a Noé proxy), an American film student studying in Paris. He meets Electra (Muyock), an art student of the tortured variety, and the two fall into a passionate affair. Things are going great, and we witness them exploring their sexuality in intimate detail. A new neighbor arrives, Omi (Kristin), a 16-year-old naif whom they seduce into a threesome. What could go wrong? Well, everything, if you know the basics of geometry. Murphy starts seeing Omi and gets her pregnant after a condom breaks during one of their trysts. Electra flips out and leaves, and Murphy is suddenly in a domestic situation with a son (named Gaspar, of course) and a girlfriend whom he resents (as evoked by Murphy's occasional, bitter voiceover). That's where the film begins, Murphy receiving a phone call from Electra's mother, who hasn't heard from her in months and fears the worst. To his credit, Noé deftly shuffles the narrative so we are constantly moving back and forth from burgeoning love to its inevitable dissolution. It's a neat structure, similar to Irreversible, but maybe I was distracting myself with that aspect because none of the three main characters are remotely likable people. If you are going to recite lines such as "Did you ever try sex on opium? It's chill," or "I wanna make movies out of blood, sperm, and tears," you have to own that shit. Regrettably, none of the leads has the acting chops to do so.
Love is a maddeningly myopic film, mainly due to Murphy's squarely white-male heteronormative experience. It is the director rummaging through his past loves and crafting a story that is a narcissistic parade of all things Noé with (not so sly) asides (to wit: Murphy keeps drugs in a VHS case for I Stand Alone; there is a model of the Love Hotel from Enter the Void in his apartment; Noé shows up in a cameo as one of Electra's ex-boyfriends, a pretentious art dealer billed as Aaron Pages (anagrams!)). I admire Noé on a number of levels; he and cinematographer Benoît Debie craft warm, exquisite compositions of various sex acts on aesthetically pleasing bedsheets, and the music – ranging from (an overused) Erik Satie to Pink Floyd and Goblin (and the persistent sound of rain) – are used well. I just wish Noé could take a step back from his raging ego and focus on something other than himself, but that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon. Until then, cover your eyes. It may sting a bit.