Hardcore “pornographic” sex embalmed in drama. Love is the first tale of destructive romantic drama by provocateur Gaspar Noé, whom if you don’t know, is intent on both dodging anything remotely mainstream and at rocketing off into the black hole of squalor. His “Irreversible” (2003) and “Enter the Void” (2009) are the darkest movies ever made – that’s not casual hyperbolic, one’s a tale of rape and misplaced revenge and the other a loser specter in the afterlife hovering endlessly over the remnants he left behind, it obstinately aims to be a trancelike viewing experience. And while I am a great admirer of those pics as transgressive art, I have to also state that they are so extreme in their doom and despair that they are not for everybody. I find something perversely cathartic about plunging into the worst depths of depravity, because I know my life is steered opposite of that. “Love” (which is depraved dog Noé lightening up!) is definitely a film for more people, subversive adults who like racy, kinky, erotic fare – especially one that pushes the envelope and shows you MORE! MORE! All in long takes and meticulously composed shots of hand stroking, snatch eating, blow-banging, orgy, raw penetration, tits in face, engorged erections, and ejaculation.
The actors are newcomers, probably chosen for their sexual endowment and abilities on camera than for their personality. How deficient their personalities actually are eventually becomes an issue some will have against the film. Karl Glusman is a wannabe American filmmaker residing in the party bohemian section of Paris who goes simply by Murphy. Our Murphy is convinced the love of his life is the bohemian-meets-pinup Electra (Aomi Muyock), who if I may say, is demure with black-rimmed frames on and a naughty sex kitten with glasses and clothes off. When they engage in a threesome with neighbor Omi (Klara Kristin), they both get off on their fantasy coming true, but Murphy can’t get enough. He has a side affair with Omi, she gets pregnant, and while he declares love for his baby boy, he is trapped for the rest of his life with a now lackluster woman. “Living with this woman is like sharing a bed with the CIA.” He also feels that she “tricked” him.
This is terribly relatable to any man who feels like he had a baby with the wrong woman. It’s ironic, when the right woman was right in front of him, or so he says a lot about Electra.
It’s crucial to note that the chapters of the film are all told backwards, so we see the current condition of unhappiness, then we go back and see him learning he is going to be a father to Omi’s child, then telling Electra that he is fathering Omi’s child that besets a nasty break-up, then the time that the three of them just met and set up a threeway tryst, then some blissful times during the peak of Murphy and Electra’s relationship, then the rocky times before proposed established trust, some fun sex, some makeup sex, some public fights, and so on, until we get to the beginning when their first meeting was unsullied and filled with promise.
Sometimes the clock winds backwards then shows us a chapter, goes back to the present, and then backwards again but not as far back as before. GASP FOR AIR! Should a sexy romantic drama really be this needlessly complicated for casual adult viewing? “Love” is supposed to work for the libido and yet it makes the brain do a lot of hard work just to stay on top of what’s chronological in the timeline. For “Irreversible” the backwards structure worked because we deconstructed the loaded topic in a searing way.
We never doubt the filming techniques, the lighting and camera framing, the editing and music of “Love,” are indeed superior to the wastelands of home video porn found on the internet. A lot of it is sexy to me (if overcontrolled: Noé has his actors deliberately entwined for elongated periods just so he can hold onto a carefully mounted shot without cutting), except I don’t find the underground sex clubs of Paris with their grimy, cum-permeated air, much of a turn-on. I also don’t think it liberates the characters as much as it poisons them, though I’m aware that some will think that’s the point being made. But to me, it’s like Noé plugged the scenes in there because wants his audience to know, “Yes, these sex infernos in Paris do actually exist!” He amps them up with strobing red light effects that demonstrate showstopping visual flair. But because of these scenes, his characters lose integrity.
I am not bored by anything in “Love,” it’s just that I am a tad disappointed at it by the end. Because the more we go back in time, the more we grasp what a callow poser Murphy is. The thinking that is forcefully required while watching the film it is also spurious – this love affair turns out to be nothing more than a basic story. And the idea of Murphy and Electra intended to be forever linked hearts seems to be a notion in nobody’s mind but Murphy’s.
I wanted something at the end of the film, i.e., beginning of the story, that seduced my trust. Something that seduced my desire to wanting to know these people in real life. As is, I figured out all I was watching people with the personalities of cellophane go at it.
A few hardcore films have achieved an authentic drama and sincere themes therein, and those would include the lesbian love story vaulted by true heartbreak “Blue is the Warmest Color” (2013), the omnisexual “Shortbus” (2006), the forbidden affair staked in wrongness that’s also in my All-Time Top 100 called “Damage” (1992), the exploring of light S&M in “9½ Weeks” (1986), and if you can withstand the horror (not kidding) of the final minutes, “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976) about sex addiction taken too far.
French film in English.
135 Minutes. Not Rated; material equivalent to NC-17.
ADULT ORIENTATION DRAMA / SEXY IMAGES / LATE NIGHT SIZZLE
Film Cousins: “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976, Japan); “Exotica” (1995, Canada); “Romance” (1999, France); “9 Songs” (2005, United Kingdom); “Blue is the Warmest Color” (2013, France).