The controversial director’s fourth installment showcases threesomes, orgies and ayahuasca ceremonies by following two doped up kids around Paris. And yet, it touches on a lot more than just your two favorite things: love, and of course, sex.
This weekend, hundreds of moviegoers lined outside for two hours to watch one of the American premieres of Love, the Argentine–born French director’s newest piece which first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where I first saw it. At the international premiere of his own film, the director fell asleep wearing his mustard jacket. Would this be any different? Noé is known, loved and hated for catering to his public’s most voyeuristic and depraved desires by keeping it sexy, dangerous and inappropriate. He is the one who enraged and fascinated audiences all around the world with Irreversible (2002) and Enter The Void (2009). I half expected him to be met with a standing ovation or multiple walkouts. And once again, he got a mixture of both.
At the press conference in France, Noé explained: “The film is called love, so that’s what’s onscreen”. 3-D helps you get it all. You are not having sex but sex is having you, literally in your face and everywhere around you, which is what Noé aimed for by choosing to use the technology. When Street asked him about his choice to use 3-D this weekend, the director responded that he “enjoys movies in 3-D with long takes” and in this case, “3-D creates a kind of additional intimacy” for the viewer.
After taking in the first scene of naked bodies, you are introduced to Murphy who is high out of his mind on New Year’s Day and dreading taking care of his son. His young child, Gaspar, is an accident that he shares with Omi, his blonde neighbor–turned–girlfriend who he insists is ruining his life. Murphy’s voiceover guides the film, offering his most intimate thoughts to the viewers and trapping them in his head. Perhaps you recognize Murphy, maybe you know him, but you probably even are Murphy: always horny, often lazy, sometimes violent and arrogant with no real work to show for it. He’s the typical American boy and cinema student, with film posters in his messy room whose most recent "art" are X-rated photos of girlfriends. Elektra, an "aspiring painter" at Beaux–Arts who repeatedly cheats on Murphy with her ex, the owner of a certain Noé International Art Gallery until Murphy cracks a bottle on the older man’s head, the owner of the gallery. Murphy cheats, screams, falls hopelessly in love and in lust with one girl after another. He calls Elektra a junkie, but it's him who is addicted to her, even two years after he has last seen her.
The 3-D narrative functions through flashbacks, and you can’t help but predict Murphy’s actions and ongoing misery as he opens with “Today is shit,” and continues with “I fucked it up,” without bothering to sort anything out. Often shot between two walls, he’s trapped in his present but obsessed with his past and unable to face the future. Murphy’s present is grey and dull, compared to two years prior, when his life was filled with passionate sex in red and yellow rooms filled with warm colors that match Electra’s clothes and fiery personality. It’s the love described later on in the film, a place that makes people “bright and crazy”. The story is recognizable, filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows, a passionate yet destructive romance of excess and distress. But the tension between the actors is electric (this is two of the actors’ first film), and the party, rave, orgy scenes are loud and immersive. The film gets at you—it even jerks off at you. And when is the last time that someone blew smoke rings directly onto your face or ejaculated towards you in a movie theater? These are the questions people were asking themselves, alongside the most important one. Cinema explores everything: horror, grace, beauty, terror, life, death, love—so why not sex?
Noé attempts to answer this question with an uncensored celebration of the act itself. It’s not the planned, glamorized, passionate and sweet display of nudity that permeates Hollywood. And yet, it is steamy, tender, sad, happy, long, based all over Paris, la cité de l’amour (the city of love). The sex is exclusive and non-exclusive but mostly concerns the two protagonists, anytime, anyplace: against the wall outside a rave, with swingers at a sex club, with a transvestite called Maman (Mommy), in the bathroom… on pot, coke, opium, E, ayahuasca, and so on. Murphy and Electra claim they love each other, and their relationship is so deeply intertwined in sex since the first night they meet, that both keep on being confused by sex and love (as expected).
With Love, you get everything except perhaps an understanding of love itself. But you somehow do get love. Murphy takes opium that Electra gave him to be closer to her because he wants a part of her inside him. Noé uses 3D so that you can be inside the film, fully present during every violent fight, choppy vibrant dance sequence, drug–infused haze, intimate action, breakdown or drunken whisper. Murphy and Electra promise each other to try everything together: you leave thinking it could be time for you to do the same.
Love premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and is distributed in the U.S. by Alchemy. Watch the trailer here.