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Cannes Review: Hardcore Sex Isn’t the Craziest Thing About Gaspar Noé’s 3D ‘Love’

Cannes Review: Hardcore Sex Isn't the Craziest Thing About Gaspar Noé's 3D 'Love'

READ MORE: The 2015 Indiewire Cannes Bible

In his psychedelic 2009 drama “Enter the Void,” French-Argentinean director Gaspar Noé pushed film language and audience expectations to their breaking point with a spirited attitude that meshed with innovative craftsmanship. The conceit behind his follow-up “Love,” a 3D love story loaded with graphic sex, suggests another attempt to merge extreme provocations with real filmmaking skill.

Instead, the biggest surprise of “Love” is its modest ambition: Noé’s intermittently absorbing, somewhat half-baked, underwritten chronicle of a doomed romance does offer a few tidbits of hardcore goods as promised, but otherwise feels lightweight. Rushed to the finish line in time for its Cannes Film Festival premiere, “Love” plays out like the fragmented outline for a more engaging movie. But the one found here lacks substance both on the level of story and graphic reveals.

Despite the 3D effects, Noé does little to energize the explicit onscreen action. His first shot finds naked Murphy (Karl Glusman) lying on his back while a woman strokes his member for minutes on end. Eventually, he finishes up in traditional fashion as the screen cuts to black — an inevitability that yielded applause at the movie’s Cannes premiere, as if it marked the climax of an extended drum solo. But if the scene was a beat, like many others to come, it strictly hit the familiar notes — and could have landed at any other point in the disjointed, meandering narrative that follows.

Nevertheless, “Love” does manage to develop a coherent story about troubled romance, adopting a non-linear structure that unfolds across two time-periods: In one, the studly Murphy meets French art student Electra (Aomi Muyock) and develops a passionate romance with her rife with experimentation; in the other, years later, she’s left him after he knocked up the next door neighbor (Klara Kristen), who has birthed his child.

Mustachioed and pudgy, Murphy has settled into a bored domestic routine, and beats himself up in a drab voiceover while recalling his former lover. Unfortunately, even if the pieces are aligned for a tender portrait of romantic sorrow, Noé’s screenplay falls short of offering much dimensionality to Murphy’s laments. “I’m a dick,” he asserts. “A dick has only one purpose — to fuck. And I fucked it all up.” Glusman has the right look for the brooding role, but doesn’t get the chance to do much with it aside from cycling through various pouty expressions.

All of the hallmarks of Noé’s jittery storytelling technique remain intact, with abrupt cuts to black leading to a collage-like depiction of his memories as he cycles through them. Aided by a soundtrack that blends contemporary electronic music with Bach and vivid color schemes from expert cinematographer Benoit Debie, “Love” offers glimmers of the cinematic elements that have made Noé’s style both confrontational and fluid in the past. But none of that can rescue the underlying simplicity that hangs over each scene.

As we watch Murphy and Electra talk through their affection and passionately screw in a variety of locations, Noé’s camera just sits there. Lacking sophistication in terms of their arrangement, the sex scenes maintain a hollow feel. And while Noé clearly intends to focus on the people rather than exclusively on their copulation, they’re never intriguing enough to make the aimless humping (and stroking, squeezing, etc.) signify anything deep.

Perhaps sensing as much, Noé’s script is littered with gratuitously overstated clues as to his intentions of making a passion project: Murphy’s kid is named Gaspar, Electra’s ex-boyfriend is name Noé, and the main character is an aspiring filmmaker who blatantly states his intentions of making an emotional movie showcasing hardcore sex.

“Love” doesn’t accomplish that, but it’s worth pointing out that Noé certainly tries. Less trainwreck than undercooked conceit, the movie features some affecting sequences in which Murphy and Electra feud over their varying desires, particularly during one unsettling scene at a nightclub in which strobe lights draw out the intensity of their destructive path. The accumulation of bedroom scenes and whispered passions between the lovers do generate some semblance of believable chemistry, and Electra’s drug-addled sensibilities reasonably exacerbate the couple’s mounting tension — which sets up a finale that earns its notes of despair.

For the most part, however, “Love” fails to generate any kind of engagement over Murphy’s conundrum. Neither the threesome that sets the story in motion nor other explicit sequences intended to show the boundaries of Murphy’s own sexual barometer — he’s disgusted, for example, when Electra tries to sic a transsexual hooker on him — register as anything other than banal.

Both eager to please and relentlessly underwhelming, “Love” doesn’t even manage to do much with the 3D gimmick that boosted its profile long before its completion. Noé exploits the device just once with the inevitable money (cum) shot of a larger-than-life penis blowing its load straight at the lens, but otherwise, his static images of writhing bodies look resoundingly flat.

A precious but sadly one-note vanity project, “Love” plays more like the prelude to a movie Noé may still want to figure out. The formidable directorial force on display with both “Enter the Void” and “Irreversible” remains visibly intact with this minor work. At the same time, it comes up short of making the case for an even a better version of its approach. Murphy expresses a desire to replicate “sentimental sexuality onscreen,” a feat already accomplished in more ambitious projects ranging from John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus” to Catherine Breillat’s “Anatomy of Hell,” both of which explore the prospects of intercourse to communicate real ideas. Noé clearly wants to chart his own path, but as his movie chronicles that desire rather than realizing it, Noé mainly succeeds at broadcasting his intentions. That’s an achievement in its own right, if not enough to make for a satisfying movie. The most outrageous special effect in “Love” is its director.

Grade: C+


“Love” premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival. Alchemy will release it in the U.S. later this year.

READ MORE: Gaspar Noe’s 3D Sex Odyssey ‘LOVE’ Goes to Alchemy

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