MIFF 2015: Love
It's become almost routine for enfant terrible Gaspar Noé to challenge and shock audiences with his lucid and colourful interrogations of violence, drug use, and the dark recesses of human insecurity.
Love comes to the screen boasting one of the most controversial marketing campaigns ever afforded a mainstream film, sexually explicit posters promising unsimulated, hardcore sex scenes to those who dare see it — and in 3D, no less. But the film isn't called Sex, and although it is filled with scenes that depict and toy with the eroticism, power dynamics and subjectivity of sex — including a point-of-view shot of a man climaxing directly towards the camera, and another shot that can only be described as "vagina-cam" — Noé seems equally interested in what happens between the sex scenes.
"I want to make a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality," explains Murphy (Karl Glusman), an American living in Paris in a volatile relationship with Electra (Aomi Muyock). Murphy is an astonishingly transparent fictionalisation of Noé himself — homophobia and pretensiousness included — an aspiring film director who has just explained to a couple at a party that "real" sex is different, and infinitely more meaningful, than most cinematic sex scenes.
There are countless films that portray sex, but generally it's one particular kind: the electric first sexual encounter between new lovers. "Regular" sex — the physical expression of trust and intimacy between two people in love, which is just as beautiful and charged — rarely sees the light of a cinema screen.
But in Love it does, as Murphy and Electra have an exceedingly healthy and experimental sex life that takes their relationship to many places both spiritual and physical, including a bacchanalian sex club portrayed with the strobe-lit vividness Noé is famous for. Visually striking as always, Noé's directorial craftmanship is not in question, but the importance and relevance of Love's narrative is unconvincing.
Though fitfully loving and devoted, in many ways Murphy and Electra's relationship is defined by dysfunction, their unaligned wants and needs dangerously interacting with Murphy's feelings of entitlement and jealousy. When they eventually welcome their coquettish blonde neighbour Omi (Klara Kristin) into their love-making in a misguided attempt to fulfill a shared fantasy without adequate mental and emotional preparation, it causes a rift that eventually has far-reaching effect on all parties.
Presented mostly from Murphy's point of view — with languid voicover narration of his inner monologue — the film's primary emotional exploration is the regret a straight white male feels after realising that he's destroyed his relationship. It's quite a truthful portrayal of such a subject, but at this point the question should be asked: is anyone really crying out for another film in which a white dude melancholically struggles with his own insecurities, even if that film contains countless visually inventive and occasionally brilliant sex scenes?
By the time the movie rounds the end of its second hour, the audience has witnessed such a variety of sexual encounters that sex becomes just another dull, punishingly boring complexity in the characters' lives. And for a director who's spent his whole career pushing boundaries, a film so tame might be his most radical experiment yet.