Irreversible. Enter the Void. I Stand Alone. If these film titles from director Gaspar Noe don’t elicit a bit of apprehension or knee-jerk response, then one probably hasn’t seen them. Always provocative, sometimes unsettling but assuredly an “auteur” in every sense of the word, Love is yet another exploration of the themes that have haunted Noe throughout his almost 25 years of shorts and feature films. It’s a strong effort (both in narrative and the threshold-pushing boundaries it uses to tell it) that, although suffers a bit in repetitive ideas, will linger in your mind long after it’s over.
Landing on an American named Murphy (Karl Glusman), Noe uses a series of static wide angle shots as Murphy roams around his cramped Paris apartment, lamenting on the state of his perceived miserable life, even though we soon see he’s married to beautiful young Omi (Klara Kristin) and they have a baby together. In typical Noe voice-over fashion, Murphy’s stream-of-conscience rant immediately places us inside the bifurcated head of his male lead full of anti-social ideas and bleak outlook.
The only thing that seems to shake him out of his nihilistic state is a phone message from the mother of his previous girlfriend, Electra (Aomi Muyock), informing him that she’s gone missing and asking for information. From there, Love becomes a series of mournful flashbacks as Murphy tries to reconcile why he allowed the love of his life to get away and how inept he now feels on reconnecting with her.
Working backwards to their first few days together, Noe mimics the structure of his masterpiece, Irreversible, in which we see the violent disintegration of couple Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. In that one, it’s outside forces that conspire against the couple. In Love, it’s their own undoing, such as their adventurous sex life that not only pushes them into taboo underground sex clubs, but their decisive decision to invite young neighbor Omi into their bed to fulfill their “threesome” fantasy. That act, alongside Murphy’s lust for Omi even when Electra is not around, effectively shatters their relationship and sends the couple spiraling in opposite directions.
All sounds normal so far, right? I forgot to mention that punctuating the normal narrative is the standard Noe device of shock. This time, he employs extremely graphic sex scenes involving Murphy, Electra and Omi that have some people calling the film pornographic. While I feel these scenes do add dimension to the overall impact of the film- after all, its really a film about the decisions people make immediately before and after sex and its tangled consequences- they are on the graphic side which has earned Love its “not rated” status, which is nothing new for Noe. I can imagine quite a few walk outs even after the opening scene. And did I mention it’s in 3D?!
Regardless of the more gimmicky aspects of Love, there’s a damaged truth hidden beneath the sexually graphic weeds. By naming the young child of Murphy and Omi “Gaspar”, it’s hard not to notice some ounce of autobiographical promise. The character of Murphy is a filmmaker. And because the film tracks backwards from the sour to the sweet again, Noe is obviously working out some personal agenda not realized with Irreversible. It’s almost as if he’s saying there’s no way we can change the past, but if we recognize the often greatness of the present, we can all save ourselves some heartbreak. Easier said than done.
There’s nothing easy about Love, but if one can put aside their prurient nature, it soon becomes a sobering elegy about two people destined to share each other for only a short time and then spend the rest of their lives trying to re-engage that feeling.
Love opens on Friday November 6th at the Dallas Angelika.