There’s a point near the half way mark in Gaspar Noé’s provocatively explicit romantic drama “Love” where its raison d’être is revealed and the movie sheds any remaining inhibitions of being anything other than a pseudo-autobiographical sublimation of Noé himself. It happens when our protagonist Murphy (Karl Glusman) tells Electra (Aomi Muyuck) that he has a dream to ‘make a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality’ and that’s certainly what Noé has done here.
When Murphy receives a call from the mother of his ex-girlfriend Electra to ask if he’s heard from her, it draws him into a maudlin and self-indulgent reminiscence of the defining love affair of his life, sharply contrasting it with the mundane domesticity of his current relationship.
There’s no getting away from sex in “Love”, the scenes are graphic, explicit, frequent and often prolonged. In presenting the pleasures of the flesh so relentlessly, Noé does actually manage to achieve a level of intimacy between the cast and the audience. There is passion, of course, but the uninhibited sex is presented entirely within the context of a loving, committed relationship in a way that is actually quite rare in cinema and entirely absent in pornography, which this film has been unfairly and ignorantly accused of being. Indeed, after the first few times, the overt sexuality of the film ceases to push boundaries and becomes almost routine. Unfortunately, once the salacious, shock value abates, the film struggles to do much else thanks to poor characterisation and flat performances.
Sex isn’t the only thing the film is ‘sentimental’ about, though. It also romanticises drug taking and fidelity and ultimately it’s a toxic blend of hypocrisy and hedonism which leads to the gradual dissolution of the almost impossibly decadent relationship between Murphy and Elektra, irrespective of the introduction of Omi (Klara Kristin). While we become intimately familiar with aspects of the lead characters’ lives, it’s a very myopic intimacy driven by the petulant, whiny man-child reminiscences of Murphy as he laments the loss of passion, spontaneity and freedom that fatherhood has forced on him.
The film is suffused with Noé’s trademark trippy, blissed-out camerawork and there’s no denying the film is gorgeous to look at, whether your interest is voyeuristic or aesthetic. There’s a playfully wicked use of the ultimately unnecessary 3D which crosses over into the gratuitous a couple of times, notably when Noé presents his own erect penis straight to the camera. Whatever you may think of his art, you can’t argue he lacks confidence.
Driven by an unlikeable autobiographical proxy character, “Love” is a thematic one-eyed monster, its decidedly male gaze focussed firmly on the carnal, hedonistic ‘ideal’ it presents. The lack of any real depth of character to supplement and contextualise the more lascivious material really undermines the philosophical and dramatic points the movie wants to get across and while it has echoes of “Enter The Void”, it’s not quite as successful. It’s undeniably, indulgently Gaspar Noé’s vision on show though, and if you’re a fan of his work, there’s a feast for the senses in this ambitiously sensual but deeply flawed romance.