Cinematically speaking, I don’t think I can imagine a more perfect response to the recent horrific events in Paris that Love, one of the most controversial and explicit films of recent memory. In many ways it represents the absolute antithesis to the wretched, medieval ideology that powered those cowardly attacks, being primarily concerned with the free and liberated lives of young people that was so specifically targeted to induce impacts among a media-savy audience, a generation whom in the film embark on a hedonistic spree of fucking and sexual experimentation, excessive drug use and just about shatter every conservative covenant you can imagine. Of course with notorious Gasper Noé, at the frenzied wheel and the fact that it’s a French production set in Paris also lends it some contemporary charm, even if the phrase self-indulgent seems woefully inadequate to express just how narcissistic and deeply pretentious this project can be. Coincidently I finally tracked down a copy of Noé’s notorious first film Seul Contre Tous which quite honestly I haven’t had the courage to endure, in fact since the 13th just the urban firearm carnage and explosive pyrotechnics of the terrible Fast & The Furious 7 left a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth, so I guess I am getting old. Despite the rather lacklustre reportage from Cannes on this film I was slightly swayed by a few podcast commentators whose opinions I respect, they advised that as always one thing you are guaranteed with a Noé’ film is a cinematic experience of some sort, even if the performances, characterisations and the frenzied chest beating provocateur posturing can be somewhat exasperating. So, having felt the withdrawal pangs of the cinema – it’s been over a fortnight since Spectre – I flirted with the only 3D big screen projection of this oscillating film which veers from the brilliant and visionary in one sequence to the bone-thudding banal in the next.
Love arises with a contextual tableau which gives us the tone and flavour of the rest of the movie, to the lyrical tones of Bach’s Goldberg variations we open upon Murphy (newcomer Karl Glusman) and his girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock) naked as the day they were born and vigorously interfering with each other’s genitals for one long, exceptional explicit & sustained sex scene. This prologue is reminiscent of the opening of Betty Blue which similarly introduced us to our key characters and the dimensions of their intensely physical relationship, with the distant hum of psychosis and infidelities that threaten any relationship ambiently perched on the horizon. Love’s structure is less conventional however, as we immediately see Murphy with another woman Omi (Klara Kristen), the mother of his young child whom we learn through a first person voiceover that he has begun to loathe for trapping him in an unwelcome relationship. This attitude of self-centred megalomania is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this utterly repellent young idiot, and this is where the film immediately stands or falls as his company is utterly nauseating from first frame to last. As Noe’s blatant screen surrogate Murphy opines that movies should be made ‘with blood, with passion, with cum’ because of course he’s a budding filmmaker, his Paris apartment littered with the posters of controversial classics such as Freaks, Taxi Driver, Salo and The Birth Of A Nation, a choice of inspiration that tells us everything about this pretentious pretender – shallow, vain, and nowhere near as sophisticated as he thinks he is with such a bourgeoisie selection of sensitivities. I thought that cinema would have to go pretty far to conjure up a bigger rage-inducing jerk than the child star Benjie in last year’s Maps To The Stars but Noé has eclipsed it, as Murphy’s juvenile posturing, series of double standard infidelities and ridiculous racism, sexism and misogyny made we want to reach into the 3D frame and give him repeated violent slaps to his stupid, scrunched face. Dismissing his partner and their child Murphy embarks on an opium trip which forms the jagged flashback structure of the rest of the film, as somehow this intoxication is mooted as some method to divine the location of his ex-girlfriend whom has turned to some dark drug-fuelled places since their poisonous break-up, and has not been seen or heard of by her family of friends for weeks after darkly muttering of suicide. The film evolves from a love triangle three-hander to centre on the initially passionate relationship between Electra and Murphy as it swoons through the journey of his narcotic reverie, including when they invited Claudia into their bedroom, and her subsequent unintended pregnancy which detonated the existing amour which was sent spinning into the darkness.
The word frustrating immediately springs to mind as I reflect on another burst of Noe’s preening and posturing, as like his previous efforts this film veers from breath-taking bravado, from pure mainlined, exhilarating cinematic spectacle to numb inducing groans and disbelief, as one scene narcotically lurches into another. The dialogue is frequently terrible and with the best will in the world none of the three principals can act, as the Venn diagram of those individuals whom are willing to engage in unstimulated, full-on fucking and those whom are willing to commit to such activities who can actually perform is evidently a rapidly diminishing gene-pool. There is something to be said for exploding the cinematic cliché of sex and sexual relationships which is still largely relegated those soft filter, jazz scored montages of heaving perfect bodies, with all sense of genuinely physical intensity and bodily functions cleansed from the sticky and sweaty realities of intercourse, of blow-jobs, hand-jobs, cunnilingus and on and on and on. The overall effect however of the frequent fucking – and when I say frequent I mean pretty much every other scene has some sort of carnal congress – the sex actually gets quite tedious, verging on the borders of this sort of humdrum shriek for attention. Framed within the hallucinatory lens of the brilliant Benoît Debie however the sensation aspects of the film reaches plateaus rarely achieved in conventional cinema, as it looks like nothing else on-screen this year, with the unusual framing and phantasmagoric colour patterns frequently penetrate the territory of the erotically sublime. There is also a recitation of that unusual ‘blink’ editing pattern that Noe used in Enter The Void which subliminally replicates the action of a black drape falling across the screen for a millisecond before arising again, providing an unusual pattern to break into the viewers subconscious and infiltrate scenes in a curiously intimate fashion. He also frequently frames Electra and Murphy from behind, their faces and reactions to each other’s conversation coquettely hidden as his Steadicam prowls with them through the nightlife of Paris and the early morning tranquillity of the arrondissements. In that sense, as an ecstatic experience Love can occasionally peak and rush, it is quite an experience on a dense, Dolby-atmos equipped screen, if he just had the temerity to make his characters even remotely accessible then the pint-sized imp might really be dangerous.
And so, inevitably, we come to one of the most arresting and hilarious sequences of recent memory – the club scene, or rather more specifically the swingers sex club scene. Now, I’ve seen some things in my time, being a bit of a connoisseur of outré cinema you get a taste for the truly transgressive and challenging, and like some of the earlier sequences in Noé’s work he can through some sorcerous combination of pulsating sound, image and content achieve the staggeringly audacious and delirious. This sequence (which I had been pre-warned about) had me doubled up in laughter for its sheer exploitative chutzpah, not to mention the small matter of it being choreographed to the soundtrack of Menagerie favourite Assault On Precinct 13. This section made the entire cinema visit worthwhile, not because of the sexual content (obviously) but for the sheer filmmaking ambition and affect – if you’ve seen Enter The Void then you know what to expect from some neon-drenched, throbbing inferno of lust and wanton screwing. It’s immediately one of the most remarkable top dozen cinema sequences of the year, as some sort of bastard offspring of the ritual scene in Eyes Wide Shut, the Copacabana scene of Goodfellas, and the climactic coda of Titty Clitty Gang Bang IV. I suppose I should say a little about the 3D which seems like an unrequited afterthought, I think I heard somewhere it was part of a funding grant to make the film that it had to be employing new digital technology, so its deployment and depth of field rarely feels intimate with the narrative and the distance or closeness between the lovers. Frankly it doesn’t add a direct amount of tactility to the movie, it doesn’t appear to have enhanced the transmission of information, in fact it only really operates as an opportunity to stage one inevitable eruption – and when you combine the phrasing Gasper Noé / sex film / 3D I’m guessing you’re wise enough to conclude where that little caper could be going in the most gratuitous fashion. Love is for hardcore lovers only in both senses of the word, something of a detour after the soaring transcendence of Enter The Void, as Noe admirably tries and fails to forge his own, unafraid neologism for 21st century cinema;