After a few years away getting up to god knows what (presumably debauchery of some sort), bad boy filmmaker Gaspar Noé has returned. For over a decade, the director has hyped up a dream of making an X-rated entertainment for the art house. As the title of his latest feature suggests, he’s finally done it, and in 3D no less.
Despite all the graphic content and flinging fluids, ‘Love’ is also an oddly tender story from the typically wild director enamored with shock tactics. It’s not his best movie and it’s hard to imagine how widely the filthy art flick will play, but Noé has made something interesting and unexpected with his latest cinematic provocation.
The film opens with a couple engaged in some graphic fondling to ensure that the audience won’t be confused about the intentions of what’s to follow. This film isn’t messing around. It proudly wears an X-rating. Then something shifts. The movie ends up being more about the emotional definition of the title than the physical. (Don’t worry, you filthy folks, there’s still plenty of that too, including a CGI-assisted 3D money shot into the camera that’s exactly what you’d imagine.)
Karl Glusman stars as Murphy, an American film student in Paris who awakens in his apartment next to Omi (Klara Kristin), the teenage mother of his son. He’s burned out on family life already and deeply unhappy. Then he receives a phone call from the mother of his ex. Electra (Aomi Muyock) has gone missing and everyone fears the worse. From there, the movie dips in and out of flashback, showing the joyful beginning, strained middle, and difficult ending of Murphy and Electra’s relationship. Just not necessarily in that order.
Shooting in 3D, Noé plays with more subtle uses of the format. He uses a lot of proscenium framing to make the movie feel like a window into a world, as well as behind-the-head and POV shots to shove the audience into the mindsets of the characters. It’s pretty clever and looks amazing. The sex scenes tend to be given a god’s-eye 3D view so the audience can linger on all the details.
At first, it might just seem like empty shock tactics to show all the nitty gritty details. But eventually it’s clear that Noé wants to depict the various ways sex can be experienced between couples in relationships and the various meanings the act can hold for them. That’s actually a pretty interesting idea for a sexy art movie. The only question is whether or not the type of audience that might notice that subtlety is the same audience who will show up for a 3D cumshot.
For a filmmaker who’s built his career on shock value and extreme human behavior in films like ‘Irreversible‘ and ‘Enter the Void‘, ‘Love’ is a surprisingly tender movie about the necessary pain and pleasure of an adult relationship. Playing out the story non-chronologically allows him to follow emotional arcs rather than narrative ones and it all slots together rather nicely. Admittedly, the acting is as inconsistent as you’d imagine for a movie that required performers to let so much hang out, and Noé’s directorial indulgences are in full effect. ‘Love’ is far from a perfect movie, but it’s an interesting experiment at making an explicit love story that likely won’t be repeated any time soon.