Director: Gaspar Noé
Screenplay: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin
Country: France, Belgium
Running Time: 135 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Opening with a shot of a couple mutually masturbating, my first thought was that I’d never seen anything like Love. But then I remembered I’d seen Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. Not that the two films are particularly similar, beyond opening with real and graphic sex acts. So I guess I still haven’t seen anything quite like Gaspar Noé’s latest. Perhaps if it were more like Antichrist it would have been a better film.
Love follows Murphy (Karl Glusman), an American film student in Paris who wants to make "a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality”, and his girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock), whose relationship falls apart when a young neighbour whom they invite for a threesome, ahem, comes between them.
The film plays out in flashback as Murphy wakes up on New Year’s Day with a message from Electra’s mother on his phone. This sets off a series of flashbacks as Murphy (named after Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong), feeling trapped in a heartless marriage, reflects on his lost love.
These flashbacks are separated by shots of black screen that have a neat kind-of slideshow effect illustrating the fragmented nature of memory. These sequences play out largely, but not always, in chronological order. There’s a lot in this simple formal device to be admired, in fact the visuals in general are very impressive, which makes Love’s downfalls all the more frustrating.
Without trying to lay the blame solely at the feet of the amateur actors or the clunky dialogue, the film's main problem is simply that the characters are so utterly unengaging. There are a few sequences of Murphy and Electra first meeting at university, where he talks about his desire to make the great sex and sensuality movie we've all apparently been waiting for. And it's here where they so nearly come across as real human beings, where he is almost, almost, a character with some vaguely relatable wants, needs and desires – beyond fucking, that is. Even then, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to talk to him, let alone fall in love with him. Perhaps that side of his personality happened off camera.
While Murphy isn’t just a direct stand-in for Gaspar Noé (who appears here as Electra’s former lover, under the anagrammatic name Aron Pages) it’s hard not to equate Murphy’s cinematic desires with this film’s intentions; which brings us back to that opening shot.
With both Murphy and Electra facing the static camera, they slowly pleasure each other for a number of minutes until Murphy ejaculates. End scene. Was the intention to throw off anyone who dares dismiss this as pornography rather than art, getting the money shot out the way lest anyone be tempted to join in the masturbation from the other side of the screen? Or was it simply an attempt to be provocative? Who knows? Who cares? Because that’s about all the film has to say on either love or sex.
For a while I did wonder if the film was going to explore our ideals about these related themes. For a start, there’s Murphy’s marriage; man, woman and child, a very traditional view of love and happiness, which we then learn came about through the perfect storm of infidelity, a broken condom and a pro-life attitude – romance, eh? Whereas the threesome between Murphy, Electra and 16-year-old neighbour Omi (Klara Kristin) is actually shot with a degree of tenderness, all to the soundtrack of Santana doing porn. I think. I haven’t actually checked that. Don’t quote me on it.
When Murphy and Omi sleep together without Electra (and without her knowledge or consent), it’s an altogether more beastly affair with fast-thrusting missionary action. This then leads to the broken condom, Omi’s pregnancy, Electra's departure and Murphy’s feelings of being forced into marriage thanks to little baby Gaspar. But while these contrasting scenarios, the film says and explores very little of them.
In fact, for all the sex, nudity and (supposed) love, one of the most beautiful moments is just watching Omi dancing in a nightclub, while red lights intermittently flicker from one side of her to the other. It’s mesmeric. But sadly, nothing else comes close to matching it. Certainly not the close-up shot of a penis ejaculating directly onto the camera. But, to be fair, I didn't watch it in 3D. Maybe it's more romantic in 3D.
When Murphy refers to himself as a dick in this film, I’m sure it’s supposed to represent just that phallic part of his brain that seeks out very egocentric notions of desire. But in reality he’s all dick, all the time, and I couldn’t care any less about him, which makes engaging in the film very difficult. Whereas something like Blue Valentine uses a non-chronological narrative to contrast the highs and lows of a relationship, drawing you in to the characters before sucker-punching you with moments of their love's decline, there’s no such nuance here. Murphy is unlikable from start to finish and back again.
Gaspar Noé is a filmmaker I’ve been meaning to check out for some time. Irreversible and Enter the Void are two films that have been languishing on my ‘I will watch these someday, I swear’ list for quite a while, which is why I took the opportunity to watch Love. There is some good going on here; enough to make me still want to watch those two films. But that’s about it.
Love is out now on 3D Blu-Ray, DVD and On-Demand from Curzon Artificial Eye