The week between Christmas and the New Year is always a fuzzy period of limbo-ish down time where there doesn’t seem to be much point in doing any actual work or adhering to any routine. So an email asking, “Feel like reviewing a porn film over the holidays?” provided the perfect opportunity to be somewhat productive without having to interrupt these few precious days of doing nothing much at all.
I saw the poster for Gaspar Noé’s Love a while ago, which depicted a three-way kiss with lots of tongue and visible threads of saliva hanging between the mouths of the kissers. So I figured I was in for a couple of hours of artfully composed, meandering insights on the connection between love and physical intimacy, punctuated by interludes of explicit sex. My companion remarked, “Yeah, but it’s 3D sex!” Sure it’s interesting as a concept, but my concluding belief is that some things should never, ever be seen in 3D. Let’s just leave it at that.
Noé’s previous explorations of sex, violence, and various combinations of the two, aren’t my cup of tea, but I appreciate the way in which he constructs memory (or dissects it) by playing with chronology. Love is far tamer, and less violent and disturbing than Irreversible or I Stand Alone. The film digs through a couple’s past, gathering snapshot images of their time together to construct a layered, multi-angled picture of their relationship. Some of the images are quite pretty, but the whole picture is decidedly less than flattering.
Murphy wakes up on New Year’s Day to a frantic voicemail from the mother of his missing ex-girlfriend, Electra. When his current partner, Omi, and their toddler leave for the day, he takes the opportunity to get high and wallow in selfpity as he looks back on his relationship with Electra. From Murphy’s point of view, theirs was a great love, ruined when Murphy is ‘trapped’ by a cunning Omi and a broken condom. Flashbacks add different angles to this narrative, roughening its edges and cracking its surface until a clearer picture emerges – one where a teenaged Omi is invited into the couple’s bed for a threesome, and the broken condom incident occurs when Murphy and Omi indulge in a subsequent three-minus-one-some without Electra. Delving further into Murphy and Electra’s story reveals a brutal break up, preceded by a string of betrayals and dysfunction on both sides.
Now, back to all of the sex - because let’s face it, no one is buying a ticket to this film for its evocative portrayal of love lost. The sex scenes are beautifully shot, but ultimately boring and often unerotic. They serve to present a stripped-down picture of Murphy and Electra’s relationship, varying levels of passion versus mere utility reflecting the wavering connection between the two. Ideally, the sex scenes would be, at most, a visual complement to a narrative grounded in the chemistry between the romantic leads. But that chemistry just isn’t there. If anything, the sex scenes rescued me from disengaging completely, holding my interest with a 3D shot of – actually, never mind, I never want to see that again and I’d like to forget I ever saw it in the first place.
My lack of fondness or compassion for Murphy and Electra, or at least one of the two, was problematic given that this is essentially supposed to be a love story. I should empathize with Murphy’s pain and regret, but he is such an insufferable, jealous, petulant, entitled, controlling, self-absorbed, man-child that this was impossible. We do see glimmers of something deeper in him at times– when he is with his child, and when he realizes the severity of Electra’s drug addiction, – but his overall propensity for dickish behavior (like dragging a reluctant Electra to a sex club, then throwing a tantrum when she does exactly what people at a sex club tend to do) dulls any impact these small moments may have had.
As your team’s job was to create vivid, three-dimensional images by layering separate, flatter images, I thought you might best appreciate the parallel I see in the narrative’s attempt to take various snapshots of the characters that are unflattering on the surface and merge them to present a more multifaceted picture, revealing certain complexities (or at least creating the illusion of them), alter our perception accordingly. You succeed on your part, but the narrative does not. The composite image of Murphy should have altered significantly as all his layers were merged (or peeled back, depending on your point of view), but due to his stunning lack of self-awareness, he is just as much of an asshole weeping in a bathtub at the end of the film as he is inwardly snarling at the mother of his child at the beginning. Electra and Omi are permitted no development at all, remaining wooden, one-dimensional archetypes throughout the film.
Normally, if a film promised me nothing but wall-to-wall boning, I’d be all over it. But Love professes to offer something more, and the explicit sex is secondary to the tragic, impassioned unraveling of a man longing for the one that got away. The thing is, if you take away all the boning, you just have two co-dependent nutcases yelling at each other, which just isn’t very ‘ah, l’amour.’