Gaspar Noe's 'Love' is a peculiar film. Well it's a lot more than just peculiar, at least according to the advertising blurbs on the posters and the general reception it received at the Cannes film festival last year. It is 'Explicit', 'Stunning', 'Graphic', 'Outrageous', 'Visceral', 'Trippy' and the awesome trifecta of 'Beautiful, Powerful, Heartbreaking'.
Though it most definitely includes imagery which could be characterized in those terms, it's also somewhat disappointing, over-indulgent (unashamedly so... which could be construed as a plus? Maybe?), largely disjointed, painfully acted, and rather too long. Yet despite all of that, I ended up enjoying quite a few parts of it and I would recommend it for a night of more, let's say, 'adventurous' viewing.
The movie illustrates its narrative in reverse, starting off with Murphy (after an unsimulated mutual masturbation scene of course), the male star of the film, getting out of bed and showing us what an apparently horrible life he is currently living as a young father, committed to the young mother which he appears to detest. It then proceeds to show us how he got into that situation, which essentially revolved around accidentally impregnating aforementioned mother, which in turn lead to the dissolution of his then in effect relationship with Electra. Without getting into too many spoilers, Murphy got together with Electra, was involved in a sexually charged, tumultuous relationship, which culminated in a threesome with an attractive neighbour, which then lead to an additional encounter with said neighbour (one-on-one this time) resulting in her unexpected pregnancy. The upcoming (or at this point in the flow of the movie, due to the reversed structure) result of this sneaky coital escapade was announced to us in one of the most (probably unintentionally) hilarious scenes I have seen in the past few years.
Before getting to what bothered me most, I must say that cinematographically, Benoit Debie has done a fantastic job of with what I presume involved quite a few unpredictable and generally difficult environments to film in (lots of club scenes, overall cityscapes scenes, low-light conditions etc). The colour palette, compositional prowess, and lighting created what at times reminded me of renaissance/baroque paintings, specifically Caravaggio.
This is particularly evident in the film's numerous sex scenes, which were completely uncensored and unsimulated. Nor was there any of that head substitution which characterized Lars Von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac'. Here, the actors are having sex with each other with no holds barred and it is beautifully framed and lit, suffusing it with an air of intimacy and fragility that is truly touching to behold.
Well, until there is a close up of a dick ejaculating essentially on the camera which must have been hilarious to watch in 3d! Then again, sex is not always awash with falling rose petals and soft lighting, and true enough a wide range of coital situations are fairly accurately presented here.
The main problem however isn't the excessive sex but the characters that you're being asked to share two and a half hours with. They are completely insufferable. However one could argue that they are also relatable and considering the quasibiographical nature of the film, one could also say that they are potentially accurate. I could relate to the majority of things that they said throughout the film -the over-dramatisation, the exaggerated perspectives, the unjustified arrogance exhibited when one is in their early twenties. Yep, could completely relate, but was simultaneously completely disinterested.
I could see a younger Noe being channeled through Murphy's statements - those grandiose dreams and declarations of how he's a film director - and the conflict between this younger representation with the actual Noe, playing a gallery owner and suggested ex-lover of Electra. That was an interestingly handled character exploration and expression, yet the delivery was so painful that engaging with it proved difficult.
The script for the film was apparently, something like 7 pages long, with the actors (actually, from what I understand only Karl Glusman - Murphy - has any extensive acting experience) being given free reign to improvise the majority of the dialogue. From the one side, it ends up feeling more... realistic(?). On the other hand, the abrasiveness, immature nature, and general unlikeability proves too much to cope with. Midway through, I completely stopped caring and started checking how much time was left.
In general, I felt pretty conflicted when 'Love' finally finished. On the one side I thoroughly enjoyed large chunks of it. I appreciated the representation of the sex and found it to be refreshingly authentic. I agree with Noe's perspective in the interview above, in that it's a more 'mammalian' representation of sex as opposed to the more 'reptilian' character of, say, hardcore pornography. It does convey that intimacy and a sense of warmth and beauty. At the same time, it's a bit overplayed - there's a bit too much of it and at some point it just ends up disarming itself.
I hated the majority of the characters, but at the same time they are authentic and it's refreshing to be presented with non-heroic characters. They still make the movie difficult to watch and more importantly, difficult to care for the story within.
It's this conflict that makes it a peculiar film for me. For each plus there is an equivalent demerit. It's a good representation of a passionate relationship but the characters are terrible people that you don't care about. The depiction of the sex scenes is beautifully handled and is truly gorgeous to behold, yet there are so many of them that it ends up being somewhat boring.
Would I recommend this film? Possibly, with caveats - be prepared to be exposed to some pretty terrible characters and some painful performances between some truly gorgeous scenes. If you can endure the characters, and the somewhat confusing flow of the story, then it could be considered a worthwhile watch, simply due to the rich aesthete and core concept.