The provocative auteur’s X-rated film promises unbridled raunch – but does it rise or flop?
Just getting through the heaving queues and into the cinema requires ninja-like skills in Cannes, and the midnight premiere of Gaspar Noe’s Love in the Grand Theatre Lumière was an especially hot ticket – no surprise given the notorious provocateur’s latest is a 3D porn, with a marketing poster clusterlick of crimson lips, tongues and saliva that promised unbridled raunch. As Gaspar Noe descended on to the red carpet breaking out some questionable moves to a blaring rendition of Sex Bomb like a wayward uncle at a wedding, you could tell he was amped for the event. Anticipation notched up by the wait, by the time he and cast entered the auditorium cheers and shouts of “Gaspar!” added to the cheerful expectation of some seriously squalid provocation. But did it deliver? Here’s our reaction.
THERE COMES A TIME IN LIFE WHEN EVEN GASPAR NOE MELLOWS
Whether you love his taste for extremism or are appalled by his button-pushing nihilism, it’s been hard to be indifferent about anything Gaspar Noe’s made before. His nerve-shredding sensory assault Irreversible, after all, has possibly the most contentious and protracted rape scene ever committed to film, while Enter the Void tapped DMT as a vehicle for one hell of a disorienting post-death hallucination-scape against neon-lit Tokyo.
But his 3D porn Love was neither nasty nor mind-bending, and surprisingly sedate. Critic Jonathan Romney summed up the bulk of reactions best when he tweeted: “Gaspar may have invented a new genre: chill out porn”. That’s not to say there’s not lots of fucking – from the first scene we’re inelegantly angled in on some protracted finger toil – but it’s neither especially heated or inventive. It was touted as “a sexual melodrama between a boy and a girl and another girl,” and that’s pretty much all there is to it: some open screwing, then some jealous arguments, then some clandestine screwing. Opium is the blissed-out drug of choice for these hedonists, and you can’t help but pine for Noe’s weirder and harsher-edged hallucinogenic phase.
And weirdly opiated. Gaspar may have invented a new genre: chill out porn.— Jonathan Romney (@JonathanRomney) May 21, 2015
IN 3D PORN, GIMMICKS AREN’T ENOUGH
The entry line was long enough for plenty of anticipatory conjecture about what a 3D porn might entail. The first joke everyone thought of was a money shot in the face – and Noe didn’t seem to try much beyond these obvious gimmicks. This is especially disappointing given Noe’s well-established penchant for sensory experimentation – from the pure cinema and Kenneth Anger-influenced stylings of Enter the Void with its disembodied, psychedelic drift through the cityscape to his use of riot-dispersal 27-hertz sound waves to destabilise his audience subconsciously in Irreversible. In contrast to these assaults, the effects of Love are half-assed at best.
EROTICISM IS STILL A MEN’S GAME AT CANNES
The main character Murphy is an out-and-out douchebag, who is played with uncharismatic droniness by Karl Glusman and who when not treating his lovers with sneering condescension or philandering dishonesty comes out with such profound insights as: “My dick has only one purpose: to fuck.” Noe has always been interested in presenting the primal side of humans unfettered by any posturing noble abstraction, but it’s hard to discern how much of this is parody and how much just his general approach to masculinity.
When girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock) confesses her biggest sexual fantasy is a threesome with a blonde, you can bet it’s conveniently Murphy’s too. The lesbian elements of the erotic entanglement with Omi (Klara Kristin) are viewed from a hetero angle of desire, an accusation also levelled at previous Cannes Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Colour. When a transvestite is pulled into one session, it plays for laughs in a manner that’s far from progressive.
Before Love, Karl Glusman participated in offbeat dance performance "Consilience" (below).
HIS OWN EGO IS NOW WHAT INTERESTS NOE MOST
Noe inserts references to himself into the film with relentless regularity. Electra’s gallery-owning ex is called Noe (appearing in a wig, getting in on the action), and Murphy calls his newborn Gaspar. Again, it’s hard to determine how much this was tongue-in-cheek and an intentional comment on the vanity project that is filmmaking in general, but regardless, the message is clear – this film is nothing but the director’s own ego, writ large.
NOE’S BACK-CATALOGUE OF SCENES ARE ON REPEAT
Noe seems to be a huge fan of his own work, as iconic scenes and formal tricks from his prior films find their way in here as echoes. The hellish, red-lit underground S&M den The Rectum of Irreversible, where Vincent Cassel’s character descends in search of the vile Le Tenia, finds siren-filtered echo in an orgy-filled sex club in Love. A shot showing the inside of a vagina fails in its transparent angling at shock since we’ve seen similar already in Enter the Void.
NOE CLAIMS LINEAGE TO THE MOST DASTARDLY OF THEM
It’s a gesture in films often spotted by the eagle-eyed: movie posters on the wall giving a nod to a film that has influenced the director. Gaspar Noe has himself already done it with a poster of 2001: A Space Odyssey on an apartment wall in Irreversible. In Love, it’s posters of racist Griffiths silent classic Birth of a Nation and Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, Pasolini’s adaptation of the infamous porn tome of Marquis de Sade – a shorthand means of positioning himself within a pantheon of notoriety. Will Love stand the test of time among the most controversial of cinematic works? Erm, unlikely.
SOME INTERIOR MONOLOGUES ARE BEST KEPT SILENT
One aspect of Terrence Malick’s self-serious, grandiosely ambitious and spiritual arthouse offering The Tree of Life that most divided audiences a few years ago was the relentless, soul-searching interior monologue, questioning God and existence. Noe, who scoffs at such ardent philosophising and tends to regard love as an inconvenient affliction borne by the most overly sentimental of mammals, also gives voice to his main protagonist’s interior thoughts with a voice-over in Love – but what we hear are the base utterings and urges of a guy with little going on upstairs beyond where his next vagina is coming from.
From all the usual high-art posturing, that’s in a way refreshing – but amid all the banalities, where are the challenging kicks? “Murphy’s Law: If Anything Can Go Wrong It Will” flashing up as an inter-title is the most complex we get in the way of philosophy, showing that Noe’s nihilism and cynical view of humanity are intact. For him ideas are pointless, but at least there’s flesh.