Director: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, Klara Kristin
Watch Love online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
For a good while, Love plays exactly like what most would imagine an unsimulated sex-featuring odyssey from enfant terrible Gaspar Noé to be. (No prizes for predicting that the very first shot involves a hand job.) His lead, Murphy (Glusman), is on an extended bad trip, muttering profanity-laden soliloquies in monotone voiceover, as recollections of his relationships with two specific women play in his mind – mainly the parts where they had sex.
Like the protagonist of Enter the Void, Murphy’s another vacant American immigrant navigating a foreign city, this time Paris instead of Tokyo. He rejects responsibility for most of his actions and the detrimental consequences his pent-up aggression causes. His bedroom walls are peppered with posters of notorious, shocking films like Salo and Taxi Driver. He’s an aspiring filmmaker who wants to “make movies out of blood, sperm and tears”, expresses fears that his son might turn out gay, and offers up such musings as comparing living with a woman to sharing a bed with the CIA, because “nothing’s secret”. He is essentially the world’s oldest teenager, though, considering how many self-referential nods to the director’s career Love has and how often Murphy feels like a mouthpiece for him, perhaps that title actually suits Noé a little better.
As the film goes on, the banality of the drama and the painful sounds of most of the dialogue give way to some instances of fleetingly touching truths regarding intimacy. The film’s narrative structure recalls, of all things, Annie Hall, as Noé weaves in and out of non-chronological flashbacks of Murphy’s relationships with the troubled Electra (Muyock) and their neighbour, Omi (Kristin), who has a kid with Murphy in the opening setup. We mostly get the highs and lows of his time with Electra, with Omi largely ignored by the film after an extended, tastefully done, threesome.
The aesthetic execution is what makes select sequences like this warm the heart rather than provoke eye-rolls. Benoît Debie’s shallow-focus photography mixed with Noé’s favoured big, bold colours and near constant humming soundscapes produce a number of oddly relaxing scenes, mostly in the flashbacks that depict the earlier, ostensibly happier times of Murphy and Electra. One particular late embrace in a bath, drenched in orange light, is legitimately lovely – that there’s a legitimately lovely moment in a Gaspar Noé movie is probably the most shocking thing about the project. (A special mention must also be given to an excursion into a sex club that’s scored by a version of John Carpenter’s theme for Assault on Precinct 13, just because it’s pretty cool.)
One might be inclined to read Love as actually not being a work of provocation, in that, by showing real sex over and over again, and largely via sensual framing instead of grotesque angles, Noé transforms our relationship with the on-screen taboo so that it doesn’t shock or feel jarring. Then again, as much as it makes the sex – the vast majority of it in the context of a burgeoning or established romantic relationship, rather than in the world of prostitution or, indeed, actual hardcore pornography – feel like a natural, vital element, there are also various intrusions that come across like an aforementioned teenager gleefully masturbating at his audience. (Appropriately, one of these interjections does happen to involve ejaculation flying at you, the viewer.)
Speaking of that flying ejaculate, Love makes for curious home viewing, considering that it was shot for 3D exhibition in cinemas, and (outside of YouTube and Facebook’s 3D support) VOD doesn’t really allow for that sort of experience. Maybe the immersion adds a layer of weight or, at least, intoxication to the numerous scenes where Love is an energy-sapping endurance test, more shallow than soulful. Or maybe it just lays on the cinematic masturbation even thicker.
Love is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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