Supposedly Gaspar Noe has wanted to make a movie like Love for many years. He approached Vincent Cassell and Monica Bellucci, a couple in real life, and asked them if they’d be willing to perform actual sex on camera for a drama about love in all its capacities. They declined. Frustrated Noe then concocted a rape-revenge flick with (mostly) simulated sex (including a graphic rape) and re-approached the couple. This time the couple agreed (the actual sex was of fellatio in the background of a party scene), and the movie was Irreversible (2002).
Twelve years later Noe manages to get the movie he had originally envisioned made, but no big stars on board. The result is Love, starring three unknowns: Karl Glusman as Murphy, Aomi Muock as Electra, and Klara Kristin as Omi. It’s a melodrama about a love triangle. Murphy, an American living in Paris, meets Electra, a Parisian. They fall in love. They meet their neighbor, Omi, another Parisian, and seduce her into a threesome. Murphy begins seeing Omi on the sly, and gets her pregnant almost immediately. She decides to keep the baby, so Murphy is forced to confess his infidelity to Electra, who, understandably, is furious and inconsolable. Murphy becomes hitched with Omi, father to her child.
The movie focuses on Murphy’s regret; cheating on Electra and becoming tied down with Omi. Electra has gone missing and Murphy feels guilt and remorse. His relationship with Electra is seen in flashback.
Noe is a talented filmmaker and is one of the few contemporary directors prepared to push the mainstream envelope in terms of narrative stylistics and content. His numerous short films and his three other features, I Stand Alone (1998), Irreversible, Enter the Void (2009) all deal with a sense of carnal nihilism. Love is the least violent, but in many respects it is his most depressing. The narrative wallows in lamentation and self-loathing, but unlike I Stand Alone, which is viewed through the tunnel vision of a psychopath, and makes no excuses for it, Love features a protagonist who seems designed to infuriate the audience with his self-pity, selfish behaviour, and overall lack of personality.
The two women, a brunette and a blonde, both gorgeous, are rendered to the role of relatively thankless notches on Murphy's belt. During the two-hour running time the audience never gets to really know either of them. The pivotal "soul-mate" chemistry between Murphy and Electra is only hinted at, but it demands to be the spine of the movie. There is more time spent in the tableaux-esque sex scenes, which are about as languid as a stoned sloth.
To set the record straight, Love isn’t porn, certainly not in the conventional sense. Noe doesn’t direct the sex scenes like regular porn, with close-ups. Yes, there is actual fellatio and cunnilingus and penetration, but it’s all shot in the same matter-of-fact, master shot way Michael Winterbottom shot 9 Songs, a movie that is curiously similar; both dealing with the collapse of a relationship, told in flashback, where the most interesting scenes are not of the explicit sex, but of the characters breaking apart from each other.
Noe certainly has a distinct, even idiosyncratic mise-en-scene, and his audio-visual style through all his features and shorts is impressive, there’s no denying that, but he’s also an incredibly narcissistic director, and Love looks and feels like his most egotistical vanity project yet. Murphy plays a wannabe film director who wants to make the ultimate film about sentimental sexuality. He names his son Gaspar. Noe plays an art gallery curator called ... Noe, who was Electra’s previous lover, and whom gets caught in the crossfire of a drunken, assholish Murphy at an exhibition opening.
The use of source music is refreshing; Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, Pink Floyd’s Is There Anybody Out There? and Goblin’s Profondo Rosso are used to sultry effect, but again it feels very much part of Noe’s indulgent wallow in sexual semantics. By the time the movie begins to wrap up (and it takes ages) and Murphy is clutching onto straws, sobbing in the bath whilst his son watches on, unsure what to make of his miserable father, the audience is left emotionally bereft, and without any sympathy toward Murphy. Not that there was much for him in the first place.
By the end of the movie I was left feeling hollow and vaguely dejected. Love isn’t a joyful experience, it’s a rather depressing movie. The (anticipated) cum shot, with added CGI jizz, looked contrived in 2D. I'm sure in 3D it would've appeared downright gimmicky. Perhaps the immersive 3D experience in the cinema might have been a more enjoyable romp, but I doubt it. Is Love a fantasy-infused biopic of the young, reckless Noe? Probably. Does it make for good cinema? I’m not sold. Hopefully one day Noe might consider directing someone else’s screenplay. “If you fall in love, you’re the loser,” says one of the characters. Hmmm.