There is a moment of pre-coital hilarity in Gaspar Noë’s latest fire-brand, Love, where one character asks another, “Can you show me how tender you can be?” And this is exactly how tender Noë can be, with his supposedly sentimental sex epic (in all three dimensions!) being a bizarre mix of passion for passion and the alienating frankness that characterises his body of work.
Love is the tale of Murphy, a filmmaker who learns that his ex-lover, Electra, has gone missing, and goes on a ponderous journey of self-reflection through his sexual experiences and frustrations. Clocking in at a solid 135 minutes, there’s room for a lot of thematic depth and explorations of its masochistic central figure, yet Noë decides to commit to sensationalism and sketching a grandiose portrait of himself. If you weren’t sure of his favourite films from the bad taste nature of his own movies, he makes sure to remind you of them constantly. Posters for Birth of a Nation, Salo, M and even a Rainer Werner Fassbinder t-shirt make bludgeoning appearances, and Noë wants you to know what makes him tick.
“Clocking in at a solid 135 minutes, there’s room for a lot of thematic depth and explorations of its masochistic central figure, yet Noë decides to commit to sensationalism and sketching a grandiose portrait of himself”
But we can’t see any ticking, just a bunch of references, an assortment of candid and (um) well-choreographed sex sequences and some of the year’s best cinematography and sound design. Noë and his ongoing partnership with DoP Benoît Debie are a formidable duo, and Love proves that even in their calmer films, the Noë-Debie partnership can construct some visual magic. Even the 3D which some may deem immature adds a fascinating layer to Debie’s constant tight focus, making the graphic sexuality truly serene and oddly compelling. The cast of non-professional actors are clearly non-professionals, and Noë’s dialogue clunks in absolute opposition to his perfect visual conceit, so Love is left in a frustrating middle-ground.
Too ambitious to be despised, and too vapid to be adored, it’s another hopelessly infuriating film from Noë about life, love, sex, death and loss. But this time, infinitely more calming. Never expected to say that.