Film Review: Love
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Cinematic renegade Gaspar Noé returns this week with his first feature since 2009’s mega-uncomfortable Enter the Void, and it might somehow prove to be his most controversial yet.
In case you haven’t heard, Noé’s latest effort Love is basically a porn film. Well, not porn in the traditional sense, it’s a bit more tastefully shot and the soundtrack is a little less funky, but it does focus its entire story around heaps of un-simulated (that’s real) sex that’s pretty difficult to shy away from. And in case that wasn’t enough to get the alarm bells ringing, it’s in 3D too. What a world we live in.
Noé has always been a bit of a loose-cannon when it comes to filmmaking; his Palme d’Or-nominated Irreversible featured an overly-long, unbroken rape scene widely considered to be one of the most sickening in recent memory, and the aforementioned Enter the Void seemed almost equally as cruel with its prolonged dwelling on the likes of abortion.
Weirdly enough though, Love isn’t explicitly nasty like a lot of Noé’s previous work. In fact, at times it’s actually quite the opposite, but mostly it’s just simply quite boring.
Adopting his usual fragmented approach to the film’s plotting, Noé’s Love focuses its time around Murphy (Karl Glusman), an American filmmaker living in Paris with his partner and their baby. Things take a significantly sexier turn however, when he begins to reach back through his memories in order to reminisce about his emotionally-explosive experiences with his definitive ex Electra (Aomi Muyock), in turn charting how their relationship spawned his current situation.
In a way, Noé has crafted his film as an almost tragic love story; a romance for the internet age, where pornography and sexual culture in general has been so widely embraced by the mainstream, that un-simulated sex on film isn’t that much of a big deal anymore. The only problem with this reasoning is that it only really works if you simply substitute in the real sex scenes for the fake ones, but instead here, Noé goes a little (well, a lot) overboard and the sex itself comes to define the film as a whole.
There are whispers of romance here and there, but these come across as largely vacuous and poorly acted. Noé’s choice of talent - a largely inexperienced bunch and two complete newbies - ultimately does him no favours, with a great deal of his attempts at this grandiose sense of passion and sentiment coming across as some sort of weird blend between the academic and the trashy.
One sequence in particular towards the film’s finale feels like it’s almost been ripped directly out of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, and then promptly re-written by The Room’s king-of-awful Tommy Wiseau.
Luckily for Noé though the elements of the film he does put the most effort into do, for the most part, pay off. The sex scenes themselves rarely feel particularly unnecessary or extreme; granted it takes a little while to get used to the fact that there’s genitals everywhere all the time, but by the end of the first act, things seem to feel a little more natural.
Surprisingly enough, these sequences also happen to be really well crafted too, shot tastefully, with the focus usually always more on the characters themselves than on explicit close-ups or sleazy ‘money-shots’.
There are a few exceptions - most notably a randomly ejaculating penis specially shot from above for the 3D crowd - but for the most part Noé seems to edge away from the expected cheapness of real sex, making it into much more of an artfully-stylised spectacle, rather than something simply thrown in to arouse.
As tasteful and well-made as these scenes are though, they aren’t enough to power Love alone. Noé’s intentions are solid, and he proves that he’s perfectly capable of pulling them off, but instead he delivers something which feels too much like the 80s action movie equivalent of an artsy-porn film: the action (or in this case, sexual) spectacle is marvellously handled, but there’s nothing in-between to tie it together well enough.
As a result, Love doesn’t really work as a film, despite possessing a whole load of refreshing potential. It’s very possible that we won’t hear from Noé for another six or seven years, but hopefully in that time he’ll find a way to craft some more compelling characters, instead of resting too heavily on his controversial set-ups.
Love (2015), directed by Gaspar Noé, is out now through Curzon Artifical Eye. Certificate 18 (obviously).
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