On the surface, this heady relationship drama would appear to contain the same kind of combustible elements which have helped its director, cine-provocateur Gaspar Noé, garner his celebrated notoriety.
Packed with explicit, unsimulated sex scenes (with the occasional multiple coupling thrown in for good measure), Love (2015) will be misconstrued by many as a transgressive cinematic experience but, in his own pioneering way, Noé is reaching for an honest and pure reflection of young, sexually-untethered love. While never shying away from the inherent eroticism they project, the statically-staged sex scenes are treated as resolutely commonplace and are skilfully woven into the fabric of the film.
There’s a similar feeling of warm intimacy between his two leads which Noé was able to capture beautifully towards the end – or rather the beginning – of Irreversible (the genesis for this project) with Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel. Largely constructed from a series of flashbacks, Love‘s attention-grabbing opening scene (possibly a hyperbolic nod to the beginning of Betty Blue?) explicitly lays out the film’s intentions as we follow the fractured story of an American in Paris, Murphy (Karl Klusman). Lamenting the loss of his former girlfriend and true love Electra (Aomi Muyock), Murphy is now shacked up with his currently lover and catalyst for his previous break-up (Klara Kristin).
The two have a young child whom Murphy loves deeply, although he feels trapped and unfulfilled in the cramped apartment they all share; his inner thoughts reveal themselves via humorously obnoxious voice-over. Throughout, Noé peppers his film with a meta playfulness. Visual motifs to his past work crop up either as props within the film or via visual cues (Murphy and Electra’s fraught dissolution shares that same hellish colour palette as the more nightmarish scenes from Irreversible).
The further decision to name Murphy’s son ‘Gaspar’ invites us to make autobiographical comparisons between the film and its maker. These self-indulgent touches may irritate some, and they certainly threaten to pull you out of the film, but they also pose the question – which many a prominent filmmaker has grappled with – of just how far the director’s own psyche consumes his film? If Love isn’t quite as technically accomplished as either Irreversible or Enter the Void, Noé’s striking formalism is still very much evident and works surprisingly well with the 3D (playfully, he can’t resist the ultimate three-dimensional money shot).
Murphy’s past and present are revealed in flickering jump-cuts (sometimes interrupting a scene, mid-flow) the effect of which evokes the feeling of being shuffled back and forth in an intimate slideshow of the lovers’ time together. We’re privy to their foibles, sexual recklessness and sometimes destructive behaviour, some of which will prove uncomfortably recognisable for those who have navigated an emotionally-volatile relationship – even if they’ve never been tempted to visit and participate in a John Carpenter-soundtracked sex dungeon (this is a Noé production, after all).
The director’s framing device and the sometimes languid flow of his film will undoubtedly prove divisive, but it yet again marks Noé out as a fearless artist. If his previous work has helped solidify his lofty position amongst cineastes, Love is proof he can branch out, dial it down (by his standards) and produce a thoughtful and stimulating entry into the cinema of the uninhibited.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76