Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Distributed by: Alchemy
Written by Jeff Sparks
Just like the main character in this film says about his own work, most of Gaspar Noé’s films contain blood, sperm, and tears. Though his fourth feature-length film, “Love,” mainly focuses on the latter two. Starring Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, and Klara Kristin, “Love” depicts sentimental sexuality and its prominence amidst romantic relationships. Even with its great direction and brave performances, “Love” seems to be most known for the countless unsimulated sex scenes that are filmed in a graphic fashion. This isn’t a shock to some, considering most of Noé’s films contain realistic depictions of sex, violence, and trauma, but a casual movie viewer will likely call the film pornographic. To call the film pornographic isn’t just lazy, it is ignorant. But more on that later.
Noé prepares the viewer with the type of graphic nature they are getting into right away by opening the film with a scene that features a handjob, fingering, and ejaculation. Following this, the film introduces us to our main character, Murphy (Glusman), who wakes up from a dream and reluctantly greets his infant child and wife, who is a different woman from his dream. Like with his debut feature, Noé uses voice-over dialogue to convey a character’s emotions through their thoughts. Murphy expresses feelings of regret for his past and being trapped in his current situation. After showing a few out-of-context scenes from different times in Murphy’s story, the film takes us to the beginning where we see him early on in his relationship with Electra, the woman from his dream. The two fall in love quickly and express their dreams of becoming artists together, before having a threesome with their neighbor, Omi (the woman Murphy is married to later in the timeline), in one of their many sexual experiments together. This leads to Murphy accidentally impregnating Omi behind Electra’s back which causes them to break up and leaves Murphy stuck spending his life with Omi where he lives in a loveless relationship and fails to achieve his dream of becoming an artist.
My favorite directorial decision in the film stems from the way Noé uses framing and colors to represent the way Murphy feels during his relationship with Omi in contrast to his time with Electra. When he’s trapped in his relationship with Omi the colors in their apartment are bright, with white wallpaper and sunlight shining through the windows. Murphy feels there is much more out in the world for him than just his life with his unwanted wife and accidental child. In the scenes showing his relationship with Electra, the framing is often very close to the two lying together with dark colors like red surrounding them and darkness enclosing the borders of the picture. It might as well be the only place on the Earth in their minds because the only thing that matters to them is being with each other. The colors in the rest of the film are stunning with Noé’s usual favorites of reds and greens, but the standout visual spectacle comes during a scene of Electra and Murphy at an orgy club with flashing purple and pink lights. The scene acts as a thumbnail of what the film contains–impressive imagery and countless sexual acts that are done by many different people.
Coming back to the topic of some viewers lazily calling the film pornography, since the film is titled “Love,” one might expect a simple depiction of romance and a reserved portrayal of sex. Instead, Noé takes a new approach to a love story. The filming of the scenes may be as graphic as some pornographic films but the scenes in “Love” are not aggressive or soulless the way pornography is. In the film, Noé expresses the character’s innermost desires including sex in a realistic manner rather than on a surface level like most films do. For example, the infamous threesome scene that is accompanied by the euphoric score by John Frusciante is portrayed as a blissful experience for the three, rather than just as an erotic act of sex. Noé also uses both female and male nudity in the film, including two scenes of male ejaculation. The reason for this is he is showing sex for what it is rather than showing something that is erotic for one group of viewers or the other like the way you would expect to see in a slasher movie that only shows topless women. In American cinema, sex is usually only portrayed on the surface level, only showing nude shots of the woman if any at all. I find it questionable that American films have no problem showing something like graphic violence in war films but not something natural like sex. It doesn’t make sense to me that glorifying atrocities like war is encouraged but something like sex is considered taboo. Some might say that Noé could have edited the film to make it less graphic and allow the film to reach a more commercial audience, but that’s not who Noé is. By censoring the film he would not be staying true to his vision of showing love in all its aspects.
The main actors who star in these scenes are some of the bravest I’ve seen, especially considering Muyock and Kristin were unprofessional actors that Noé had met at clubs. Like with his approach to making “Irréversible,” Noé planned out the story for the film but not the dialogue or much of the specifics. Having these non-professional actors improvise allowed them to act freely and give believable performances that likely would not have been possible if they had been tied to a specific script. Glusman works well in the film by making his character feel identifiable to the viewer. He isn’t good or bad. He is who is who he is. Sometimes he’s agreeable, sometimes he’s not. Just like in this film no one in real life is likable one hundred percent of the time. That’s why he works so well. I’ve always appreciated Glusman in the several films I have seen him in, but Aomi Muyock is the MVP of “Love.” Besides her bravery in the graphic scenes, her most valuable skill is the way she finds the perfect balance for her character to show the ups and downs of a relationship. She’s delicate in the scenes of dream-like love and vicious in the scenes where she feels that has been ripped away from her. Even with limited screen time, Klara Kristin makes herself memorable as well. The cameo appearance by Noé wearing a ridiculous wig is also a welcome performance. Like with all Noé films the characters may be interesting, but they aren’t always likable. This is especially prominent after the breakup where Murphy and Electra act selfishly and childishly toward one another. I like Noé’s decision to do this because it makes them feel real instead of having something cliche like the couple fighting and then getting back together in the end and having a happy ending like most romance films. For his ending, Noé shows Murphy’s memory of showering with Electra after their first meeting. The two are enclosed in this shower, happy they are there together. The film then cuts to Murphy in the present time by himself in the shower, crying as he realizes he is enclosed in his undesired marriage to Omi due to giving in to his lust for her, rather than keeping true to his love for Electra.