Tag Archives: France

Review: ‘Love’

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.

Review: ‘Two Days, One Night’

'Two Days One Night' (Sundance Selects)
‘Two Days One Night’ (Sundance Selects)

Two Days, One Night, the new film from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, is a staggering examination of one woman’s desperate quest to save her job. It’s a film that touches on the raw nerve of survival in the face of impending downsizing, and it only bolsters matters when the lead is Marion Cotillard, who gives an astonishing performance.

Opening on Sandra (Cotillard) as she bakes a pie for her kids and tries to get a few moments of rest, she’s soon interrupted by a phone call from fellow employee Juliette (Catherine Salee). The opportunity to speak with her boss has arrived and Sandra hustles down, hoping to change the course of action rendered against her the previous day.

Not only is Sandra on the mend from a bout of depression, but she recently missed time at work which caused her managers to realize the work can be done without her. Sensing an opportunity to cut costs, a vote was taken with the 16 remaining employees, deciding whether Sandra should keep her employment or make room for a team bonus. Suggestions of verbal intimidation by her foreman (Dardenne regular Olivier Gourmet) have provoked Sandra’s boss to take a second vote the following Monday. If the majority casts the same decision, Sandra will effectively be on the dole.

From that busy, foreboding opening ten minutes, Two Days, One Night becomes a tense observational as the camera rarely leaves Sandra’s shoulders as she and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) traverse the city, visiting each of the employees in a last ditch effort to win their support and, ultimately, her job.

Each knock on the door or telephone call brings a new presence in front of her. Sometimes the conversation goes well, but more often that not, it’s an awkward and strained exchange of glances, half apologies and unspoken emotions. Cotillard handles every flinch and occasional breakdown with such authenticity that we almost feel ashamed for prying on her. It doesn’t help that the film consistently frames her hidden behind a wall or half obscured by a door frame, strengthening the temporal displacement she undoubtedly feels for “begging,” as she calls it. It’s rare that a film elicits this type of tangible emotion from the viewer.

The Dardenne brothers have created a long career out of simple ideas that resonate with strong moral ambiguity. Their characters are proletariat, like Sandra, continually on the verge of shifting classes — and often not for the best. Their visual style is one of microscopic survey, as if the roving hand-held camera they often employ is an unknown person taking notes just off-screen of the main character. All these recognizable elements are present in Two Days, One Night and they add a suffocating sense of reality once again.

The Dardenne brothers have also been well rewarded, winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival twice in ten years and seeing Marion Cotillard receive an Oscar nomination this year for her role here, so it’s hard to take another rave about their work too seriously. Yet, Two Days, One Night is their best work. With the unemployment rate at a seven year low here in the United States, the idea behind the film may not register with quite the traumatic experience it does in European quarters, but the frazzled and uncertain future Sandra faces is a universal worry for everyone without a hefty 401K. The real beauty lies in the wealth of her honesty and the way she confronts life afterwards.

Two Days, One Night is currently playing exclusively at the Angelika Plano.