Cannes 2015 – Love (Gaspar Noé)

It was supposed to be the event of this year’s Cannes Film Festival: the midnight screening of French-Argentinian provocateur Gaspar Noé’s latest film, Love. Promises of lots of graphic sex and a slew of decidedly NSFW posters for the film a few weeks before the screening made temperatures rise (and perhaps something else as well), and given the fact that his previous films do have their supporters (yours truly being one of them), expectations were high for at least a fun screening. It’s not every day you’re going to watch semi-porn with 2300 other people, is it? Noé had exclaimed that he wanted men to get hard, and women to get wet. No, he is not known for his subtlety…. He also isn’t the first director to put sex so openly on display (see this list), but doing so in Cannes, and in 3D no less, made this still a must-watch. How little did we know…

The atmosphere in the Lumière theatre before the screening was certainly elated. Benicio Del Toro was in attendance and greeted loudly. Thierry Frémaux did a cheeky introduction of the film and was greeted loudly (that didn’t happen a lot this festival). And Noé and his three-piece cast were also, you get the idea, greeted loudly. I’m not sure if everybody had high expectations on the quality of the film, but at least people were having fun. And for a few minutes, it sure looked like the film could be fun too. It opened with two of the leads in bed, the woman masturbating the man, and the man fondling the woman’s nether regions, all of it set to classical music. The crowd cheered, and because of the way the two were positioned and the use of 3D, despite (or perhaps because of) the content it wasn’t half bad for an opening thirty seconds. Except it lasted for minutes, and even that very first scene is symptomatic of the film: it lacks passion, and while one would desire this with real sex, it goes on way too long.

Now, the biggest problem with Love isn’t the sex scenes, even though they are somewhat detached and, well, loveless. Most of them are at least well filmed, and even though they go further than any mainstream film I can think of, they are not fully comparable to hardcore porn (allegedly, of course…). There are surprisingly few penetration shots, and even close-ups of genitals are not abundant, at least not in your regular porn way. No, the real problem lies with all the stuff in between, in Noé’s flimsy attempt to structure a story around the sex and give the film an alibi to actually be taken seriously. The film centres around Murphy and Electra (Karl Glusman and Aomi Muyock, respectively), he an aspiring American filmmaker, she an aspiring French painter. They meet in Paris and start a tumultuous love affair laced with lots of sex and lots of drugs (this is a Gapsar Noé film, after all). One day, a new neighbour (Klara Kristin) moves in next door, and before you know it the couple has invited her over for a ménage à trois (the film’s only scene with a hint of eroticism). Unfortunately, Murphy can’t keep his hands off the neighbour (and not just his hands) even when Electra is not around, and before you can say ‘cumshot’, the girl is pregnant.

The story is told in flashbacks and flash forwards in a jumbled timeline, in all probability to mask the banality of it all. At the start of the film the child is already born, Murphy is living with Omi (the neighbour), and Electra has gone missing. This last fact is never truly resolved, however, so what seems to be at least a bit of urgency at first, never actually pays off. Instead, we’re treated to scenes charting Murphy and Electra’s raging relationship, as well as scenes of Murphy (who comes off as a capital-A asshole) lamenting his situation of being with a girl he doesn’t love and a child he didn’t want. And all that with lots of sex in between. Noé himself even makes an appearance as Electra’s former lover, complete with terrible hairpiece, but this role seems to be mostly written so he can have sex with his leading lady. Why this film is called Love is never clear, as very little actual love is shown between Murphy and Electra, both portrayed as rather unpleasant people. There is little substance to the story, and if you took out all the sex or at least made the scenes more conventional and tame, the film would be flaccid, and even with all the flesh on display it is still pretty dull. Which is exactly not what the crowd had hoped for…

And it’s not just the ‘screenplay’ (quotes fully intentional); visually the film is also severely lacking. The use of 3D already drains the colours, and since Noé insists on shooting almost everything in medium, he extends the dullness of the story to what meets the eye. The reason to shoot in 3D is questionable, although the medium shots of Electra and Murphy with everyone else in the background do create a sense of everything revolving around these two people, which perhaps was the point. But it might just as well be so that Noé could have a ‘money shot’ straight at the camera (no, really). Furthermore, while the three leads’ carnal endeavours are at least somewhat visually stimulating, their acting decidedly is not. They seem to get very little fun out of playing their characters, leading to a lot of scenes feeling like line recitals instead of the creation of impassioned people.

In the end, Love disappoints on every level. The foreplay was a lot of fun, but the actual act was lifeless. There are better porn films out there, even with better screenplays. One has to wonder what this will mean for Noé’s career moving forward. The three actors (of whom only Glusman seems to have done other acting work besides this) will likely never be heard of again, but the director had a following and some respect, which he may have squandered with this piece of narcissistic trash (Noé self-references three times in the film, besides acting in it). Was this mere provocation? If it was, it utterly failed, because what started as a promising ménage à 2300 ended without a climax. And that’s never a good thing when there is sex involved.