LOVE (Gaspar Noé, 2015)
"Love" is the latest film from France-based Argentinian filmmaker and provocateur Gaspar Noé, and surprisingly, it is also his tamest, despite the slew of onscreen full-frontal nudity and overlong hardcore sex scenes.
Told in a non-linear fashion similar to Noé's previous films, "Love" tells of American film student named Murphy (Karl Glusman), who is torn between the love of his life, Electra (Aomi Muyock) and the mother of his child, Omi (Klara Kristin).
The story unfolds as if an ambivalent surge of memory; Murphy recalls the good and the bad, but for the most part, the unrelenting sex. In one scene, Murphy questions why no one has ever depicted "sentimental sexuality" on film, which is Noé trying to state the obvious. "Love" succeeds when it strips down its main character of his pretensions; it fails when Noé has to justify the film's reason for being, which he does so a number of times during the film's 135-minute running time.
Another dent in "Love" is the anti-climactic opening scene, which partly demystifies the whole story. People could not be more shocked because the shocker is already in the beginning, unless you weren't expecting an ejaculation in 3D during the middle of the film (because let's face it, that is the primary reason why anyone would want to mount a sex film in 3D).
Stripped of all the sex, "Love" is actually a depressing tale of unfortunate circumstances, which is akin to human nature. Of course, when you introduce the concept of "choice" in the equation, then it really boils down to choices made and not made.
Viewers might find the gargantuan amount of sex scenes in the movie excessive for one sitting, but such is necessary to fully realize the somber nature of "Love." Noé basks his dizzying and heart-wrenching canvas with shades of red, and the characters look beautiful in the shadows-- hidden within layers of unspoken truths.
"Love," however squanders its potential for the 3D format, because the film could have easily existed in 2D, apart from the aforementioned ejaculation shot, and the club scene, where strobe lights feel lifelike. The film doesn't have much to do in 3D, which is to say that it could have instead been filmed in the IMAX format. Imagine seeing "Love" in 70mm projection. People will go berserk.
At least, "Love" doesn't prompt mass walkouts from screenings (as far as I know) the way "Irreversible" did. "Irreversible" is a tough film to stomach that a second viewing seems unlikely, but it is so far Noé's most fully realized film.
Critics already slammed "Love" for being a vanity project, but aren't majority of films vanity projects in their own right? At least, Noé embraces the full-on deconstruction of his Id, with the film unashamed in its storytelling. Morality be damned.
Lead actor Karl Glusman could have dug deeper into his character for us to be able to sympathize more with Murphy's struggles, but perhaps Noé isn't interested with sympathy. Glusman isn't entirely at fault either; Noé rarely favors long close-ups and introspection. In "Love," much of Murphy's thoughts occur in a voiceover, which doesn't work because it evokes too much ego from the director. The only time it does work is in the film's final moments.
Noé is much more interested in sifting truth from lies. Characters move away from the camera, and we see their backs for the most part of the film. During these scenes, pretensions abound. When characters finally face us, truths emerge, especially in the beginning of the story, when Murphy and Electra first meet. They walk across the park, talking, as if Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy.
"Love" is unapologetically one-sided, which could have used more of Electra and Omi's perspectives. In consolation, Noé deglamorizes Murphy and makes him the sole idiot that caused his downward spiral.
"Love" is an ode to melancholia, and it is a film that must be experienced and absorbed. The narrative structure complements the rollercoaster of emotions that the film evokes; meanwhile, the visual marriage of sex and sentiment proves terrifyingly lethal. Noé has made a two-hour sexual journey the way sexual journeys ought to be made. Unlike "Fifty Shades of Grey," the film actually delivers catharsis rather than mere titillation.