I have to say I admire Franco-Argentinian enfant terrible Gaspar Noé’s headstrong, take-no-prisoners filmmaking. Irréversible was one of the most visceral physical experiences in my film-going life and, while I didn’t think Enter the Void was much of an achievement, at least it strived for a transcendence that not many directors go for these days. But, really, Love is so much of an ill-judged misfire that even I find it hard to defend it.
Its lead character Murphy (American actor Karl Glusman), an aspiring filmmaker with all the right influences and posters on his bedroom (Pasolini, Lang, Scorsese, Warhol…), seems to channel Mr Noé’s own ideas about film and life — you can’t shake the autobiography from it even if you could, and it’s undoubtedly a sincere, heartfelt project. But whereas the previous films had at least a semblance of structure and plot merged with the director’s desire to create immersive experiences, there’s no such luck in Love, designed from a start as a fragmentary window into the brief but intense love affair between Murphy and art student Electra (Swiss-born actress Aomi Muyock).
Told out of sequence and directed in static, highly theatricalised scenes, Love is essentially a primal scream from two extremely confused and utterly objectionable characters. Murphy and Electra have so little idea of what they want that they end up destroying their affair through sheer selfishness, adolescent petulance, wilful ignorance and total disregard for the other.. Its “can’t live without her/can’t live with her” tale reminded me of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue, but Ms Muyock is no Béatrice Dalle and Mr Glusman certainly no Jean-Hugues Anglade. Their performances are awkward to the point of non-existence, unhelped by the squirm-inducing dialogue full of self-help bromides and by the tiresome clichés of mad-love dramas.
This might not be as much of a problem if there was something in the handling that transcended such dramatic obviousness; but there isn’t. Though shot in beautifully stylized 3D by Mr Noé’s usual accomplice, the great Belgian DP Benoit Debie, who constructs extraordinary visual dioramas, Love was designed from the start to show all aspects of a romantic affair, including graphic, NSFW sex scenes shot not as pornography but as naturally as an argument or a night out. But that idea of integrating sex in a dramatic narrative — such as some observers thought would happen in mainstream cinema after the porno-chic triumph of Deep Throat in the mid-1970s — flounders in the absence of said narrative and in the awkwardness of these very self-conscious performers, making Love a misguided experiment, as infuriatingly vacuous as it is mind-numbingly long (there is really nothing in it that justifies a running time over two hours, though Mr Noé has never been known for his brevity).
What makes Love even more infuriating is that you see, every step of the way, what the director wants to do, as much as you see him fail miserably at it; it comes across as an unfiltered message from the unconscious id, an explosive ejaculation of a talented filmmaker’s uncontrolled desires that bursts out aimlessly. It comes the closest I’ve ever seen to Vincent Gallo’s entropic, masturbatory Brown Bunny — yes, that bad — and even if Mr Noé should be praised for pushing boundaries and challenging the viewers, you wish he would harness his obvious talent to give his visual trips a more emotional, lasting weight.
FR, BR, BE, 2015, 135 minutes; CAST Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin; DIR/SCR Gaspar Noé; DP Benoit Debie (widescreen, 3D); PROD DES Samantha Benne; COST DES Omaima Salem; ED Mr. Noé and Denis Bedlow; PROD Mr. Noé, Édouard Weil, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua and Rodrigo Teixeira; Les Cinémas de la Zone, Rectangle Productions, Wild Bunch and RT Features in association with Scope Pictures