Six years after shocking the Cannes Film Festival with “Enter the Void,” French-Argentine director Gaspar Noé returned this week to the event to premiere his latest and most audacious effort, “Love.”
The 3D, sexually explicit love story has been generating buzz ever since it was announced as a late addition to the festival’s midnight section, followed by the release of its graphic, NSFW posters. The film delivers on that tease and then some by featuring the most hardcore onscreen sex ever to screen at Cannes (and lots of it; the film runs well over two hours). Indiewire caught up with Noé a few days after its premiere to discuss the project, why he shot in 3D, and what he makes of his critics.
Anticipation was high going into the midnight screening, largely because of the racy promotional posters that caused a stir on the web. What’s it like dealing the expectations placed on a project like “Love”?
Those visuals were done one year ago to get some financing during Cannes. They’re not supposed to be the final posters; they were just promotional posters to seduce foreign distributors. I never expected that a photo tweeted could make such a mess.
There’s one funny thing about the Cannes Film Festival: The festival itself needs a scandalous movie or two or three every year to make it lively. I think this year, there was nothing else around that could be considered as a potential scandal, so the movie was not ready when they announced the official selection. It still wasn’t ready one week later when I showed the first edit to Thierry Fremaux. He saw that it was good for his festival to have it, so then I had to work 20 hours a day to complete it and be proud of it. And now I’m proud, but I have never worked so hard to finish something in time.
So it was a pre-announced scandal of this year’s festival. The truth is that the movie’s mostly melancholic. All the sex scenes are not as you usually see them, but shown more in a beautiful, sad or melancholic way.
Your fans came out in full force for the premiere, cheering you on and screaming out your name before it even started, then followed it by a lengthy standing ovation as soon as it was over. How was that night?
It was very joyful. I’ve already seen screenings in the main theater that weren’t that joyful — I don’t remember any during which people applauded at the end. But also the fact that it was a midnight screening and people could dress normally without their tuxedos…the energy was unusually joyful.
Do you see this as an “event film”?
It’s funny that you say that. I was reading, quickly, some reviews, and once again they have the most hateful reviews coming from Variety, Le Monde. Once again, people like it or hate it.
Do you love dividing audiences?
Yes [laughs]. For all of my movies, half of the press always hates it.
Why do you read your reviews? Do you feel that you learn from them or you just have fun reading them?
I enjoy them. You have more fun with the insulting ones than with the good ones. The good ones help the movie to exist, but the bad ones help you to get into some kind of revenge plans, and excited for another movie. They wake you up. They make you laugh. I thought the Variety article was very funny.
But they don’t get to you in any way?
No. Maybe when I was filming my first short, my first feature I was more sensitive, but I have so many things in the past from my previous movies that…it’s part of the game. But I don’t read all of them, because there are so many nowadays.
I’m curious to know what came first when you were devising this movie. Was it the story you tell in “Love,” or the boundary-pushing depiction of sexuality?
I just wanted to portray sexual passion as much as possible, because in real-life it’s very common, but you don’t see it properly portrayed onscreen. The last movie where I thought love was truly presented was in “Blue is the Warmest Color.” Because for them it’s a battlefield full of joys and pain. That whole thing that makes the process of finding love like an addiction to some kind of weird chemical that your brain is releasing, and you get addicted to serotonin and dopamine, endorphins.
You were developing this movie before that one came out though, right?
Yeah, actually I had this project in the stage of a very first treatment before “Irreversible,” and I proposed it to Vincent Cassel and Monica Belluci and then they turned it down, mainly because of the transexual scene.
Interesting. But then they take on something like “Irreversible” which deals with rape.
And they said no, they’re not going to do a movie with explicit sex, and I said why don’t we do a rape and revenge movie told backwards, and they said yes. At the time, the name of the script, of the project was “Danger,” because I thought it was like, love is danger. It’s a danger zone.
Why did you change the title to “Love”?
I liked “Love” better. Imagine the same visual with “Danger,” it wouldn’t work.
The sex club scene in “Love” is quite the trip. Is that a real place?
Yes, the sex club is real.
Yeah, and the extras were mostly porn actors. In Paris there are many.
I’m not aware of clubs like that in the States — ones that swanky.
Yeah, there are a few. I heard there’s one in Nashville.
[laughs] Obviously, people are going to be drawing parallels between you and the main character in the film, given the fact that he’s a filmmaker and he has that line about why he wants to make a movie that features real sex. Just how autobiographical is “Love”?
More than half of my friends are in the film industry, because I hang out with directors or visual effects makers, so I decided that I would do a movie about the kind of people that I am or I know, and it’s a mix. It’s not autobiographical; there are many thoughts that he has in his mind that are not mine, because they’re his redneck thoughts. But at the same time, the guy’s not a hero and not an antihero, he’s just a regular guy with a good thematic taste, or sometimes with a very strict behavior. It’s maybe some parody of my friends and myself.
His character’s voiceover narration in “Love” is so solemn and quiet in delivery. What went into that choice?
We tried his voice in a more emotional way, but then you can’t feel natural reading the text or playing the part. I guess that inside your brain the thoughts are atonal. To say it was flat with no breath and no energy, then your voice can transmit some emotions. I don’t think the inner thoughts really can contain a shaky voice.
Did you actors set up any boundaries with you prior to shooting, or were just willing to do anything you threw their way?
It’s weird, sometimes they had issues about things that I cannot understand. For example, at the point the couple buys a dildo [in the movie].
I thought they were going to use it.
I thought they would, but the actress said, “No way, I’m not going to use a dildo in front of a camera.” For her, that was a vision of degradation or humiliation. She said, “No way I’m going to put a vibrator — or whatever — inside my pussy.”
How did you work around these types of issues when they arose?
She wasn’t an actress, she was just a girl. She used to be a model, and she said yes to the movie as a life experience. She had no career plans, and nowadays she doesn’t know if she wants to make another movie or not. She’s living the present time.
Who went about choreographing the sex scenes?
There was no choreography.
There was no choreography whatsoever? Even in the threesome scene that runs for what felt like ten minutes?
No, I just put them in the position and say, “Okay, looks good, okay, start the scene.”
What kind of direction did you give them when they got started?
“Let’s go.” I was very hands off when we were shooting. Once you put the people in the right positions it’s okay. Let’s start. They know how to do it. I’m not a very director director.
Yeah, I’m kind of the opposite. I remember talking with Benicio del Toro, and I said, “Who’s your favorite director to work with?” He said [Steven] Soderbergh. I said, “Why?” “Because he doesn’t tell me how I should act.” [laughs] “He’s the only one who does not tell me anything.”
Do you storyboard your films?
No. I don’t pre-write the dialogue and I don’t storyboard. There is a situation that we improvised it together on set.
You take your sweet time in between projects. It’s been six years since “Enter the Void.” Do you see your pace speeding up anytime soon?
I don’t know [laughs]. I wanted to start this movie two years ago, but then I was delayed, delayed, delayed. Sometimes you don’t want to abandon a project to go to another move and come back, so maybe because I have a manic obsession I stick to my idea, and I’d rather wait than do something that is not my main passion.
Do you have anything coming up in the works?
No, not yet. Not for a while. I have to relax and see.
Your films play like fever dreams. I’m curious what your dreams are like and whether you record your dreams in any way — if you get up in the morning and write them down.
I don’t remember having really crazy dreams. There are periods in your life in which you dream much more as an artist — you remember your dreams in the morning, and there are periods in your life that for one month or two months you don’t remember any dreams. I remembered in Iceland. Maybe because there was a lot of oxygen there, I remember I thought I was on opium, because I was dreaming every morning, every afternoon. Maybe it’s related to the oxygen.
Moving on to the 3D aspect of “Love.” What appeals to you about the experience?
It makes things more real, more intimate. You feel like you are puppets inside a box, because it’s a rectangle with faces inside.
Was it a particular 3D experience that inspired you to shoot “Love” in 3D?
No. I really like “Gravity” for its 3D, but also in “Hugo” by [Martin] Scorsese. There was a long shot — like a closeup of [Georges] Méliès facing the camera and on the big screen that seemed kind of monumental. You seriously should be careful when you do a 3D movie not to cut too fast or to overedit because it’s mind-exhausting. Once you fill the space, it’s better to let the scene last.
Is 3D something you’d do again?
Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m shooting next.
Does “Love” have to be seen in 3D?
I think it’s much more emotional in 3D. I’ve never seen the 2D version.