Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #559
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 20 May 2015 (Cannes)
Country of Origin: France, Belgium
Running Time: 135 minutes
Director: Gaspar Noé
Producers: Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua, Gaspar Noé, Lourenço Sant’Anna, Rodrigo Teixeira, Edouard Weil
Screenplay: Gaspar Noé
Special Effects: David Scherer
Cinematography: Benoît Debie
Score: Lawrence Schulz, John Carpenter
Editing: Gaspar Noé, Denis Bedlow
Studio: Les Cinémas de la Zone, RT Features, Rectangle Productions, Scope Pictures, Wild Bunch
Distributor: Wild Bunch Distribution
Stars: Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, Aomi Muyock, Ugo Fox, Juan Saavedra, Gaspar Noé, Isabelle Nicou, Benoît Debie, Vincent Maraval, Déborah Révy, Xamira Zuloaga, Stella Rocha, Omaima S.
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Funkadelic “Maggot Brain”
 John Carpenter “Assault on Precinct 13 Theme”
When contemplating the riddles of the ages, none are quite as effortlessly befuddling as L-O-V-E. When taken on face value, these four letters present little more than seven Scrabble points and have precious little meaning. Conjoined in the correct order however, they present a conundrum that few will ever be likely to unravel. Whatever pop stars are currently trending will try their darnedest to appear all-knowing and sing as though they have a handle on this all-encompassing emotion but their best efforts are ultimately in vain as it continually dumbfounds the majority of the human race and it appears as likely always will. What we need is someone to break it down further for us and get to the heart of the matter. This person must be intelligent, bold, and tactful. Well I guess two of three ain’t bad.
Ruffling feathers and Argentina-born filmmaker Gasper Noé have a long history of going hand-in-hand. Who better then to get to the bottom of love than a man who has proved he can hold down such a long-standing relationship? In 2002 he unleashed Irreversible on an unsuspecting and ill-prepared public and this initial courtship with controversy lasted seven years before he took to the hot seat once more. Enter the Void confirmed Noé as one of the brightest stars in the industry and, moreover, reminded us that he knows precisely how to provoke a reaction. Visually arresting, this wonderful slice of neon-tinged cinema somehow managed to transcend its hallucinatory conceptual visuals and tackle the unknown quantity of the human soul and its free-spirited journey through life and, in turn, death.
His unique filmmaking style again proved a bone of contention with some and his frankness towards the art of sex was criticized as being a tad too full-on. However, what its detractors failed to spot was that lovemaking is the most honest and rewarding exchange we can ever take part in and something pretty much all of us practice wherever possible. It felt like a natural progression when he announced plans for his next feature, called simply Love and, true to form, all eyebrows were soon raised in preparation. One look at the film’s marketing campaign and bigots were promptly up in arms. With its unveiling at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival looming large, the whole world waited with bated breath to be presented with his take on this most basic and complex of emotions.
One thing you are guaranteed from any Noé picture is a warts and all approach to storytelling. If he is going to tackle such a perpetually perplexing topic that affects us all, then he’s sure as shit not going to be packing his kit gloves. The opening shot confirms as much as we are introduced to American film school student Murphy (Karl Glusman) in terms of absolutely no uncertainty. One of the first sights that greets us is Murphy’s erect member and this is no isolated incident either. Throughout the 135 minute duration, we will be subjected to more wood than an overworked lumberjack and, for anyone who finds these purple people eaters unsightly, best just get to know as even the steadiest hand can’t decorate a cake without a piping nozzle.
Whilst Omi (Klara Kristin) is the woman warming his bed, she is not the sole focus of his affections. Love focuses largely on his turbulent relationship with feisty firecracker Electra (Aomi Muyock) which terminated two years prior. Unfortunately for Murphy, his duplicitous behavior proved costly as Omi’s ovary accepted his wayward seed resulting in unforeseen pregnancy and the end for his turbulent courtship with Electra. However when her mother calls to ask of her whereabouts, fretful of her daughter’s suicidal tendencies, it all comes flooding back in an instant. He has never forgiven himself for his infidelity and, with Omi now the mother of his child as opposed to simply a vagina to shack up in, he is overspilling with regret and self-hatred. Hence, in one of his more pensive moments, he decides to retrace his steps in attempt at fathoming how the hell he reached the place he currently resides.
Anyone familiar with Noé’s work will be all too aware of his tendency to stray from conventional ABC narrative. Here, we start at C and move between A and B at will in an attempt to cast some light over Murphy and Electra’s eventual collapse as formerly enthused self-confessed soul mates. There is little scope for sentimentality as this is never looking to become the next big rom-com on the market and, instead, their increasingly caustic association is often lacking any semblance of warmth. Love may therefore appear like something of a misleading title but there are enough heartfelt moments punctuating the disillusion and angst to remind us that they were once very much devoted to one another.
For Murphy, his frequent experimentation with narcotics offers a little enlightenment as to his erratic behavior and his opposite number is also far from blameless in this regard. Together they experience every euphoric high and desolate low as they search for new ways to test the boundaries of their imaginations in unison. This, in turn, leads them into some particularly dark and seedy locales as they search for fresh ways to reinvent themselves sexually. Whilst commendable that they undertake this journey holding hands, it isn’t long before straying from the path of righteousness becomes inevitable. This is where Omi comes into play as she is invited to partake in their intimacy and, while initially rewarding, the effect this has on their union is one of slow corrosion and compromised loyalties.
Of course, this being a Noé film, a fair share of our time is spent in the throes of passion. All three members of our love triangle give courageous accounts of themselves and don’t restrain from putting it all out there in their pursuit of art. Whilst Glusman had a handful of credits under his belt, Neither Kristin or Muyock had acted a lick beforehand and this shows extraordinary faith from their director for which he is remunerated with change.
Granted, anyone better known would likely have balked at his frank suggestion, but still it takes a brave soul to lay themselves bare in such magnanimous fashion. Indeed, having to perform (in both senses of the word) whilst totally naked is a challenge seldom few would never feel quite at ease with. What Noé grasps and unapologetically promotes is that, minus clothes, there is no place left to hide and the results are far more genuine.
Murphy can be a hard man to relate to and this is where some may find Love a surprisingly frosty affair. Here is a man-child if ever there was one, immensely disagreeable when things aren’t going his way, and hot-headed in the extreme whenever his masculinity is questioned. Meanwhile, Electra has just as many issues and knows exactly how to pull his strings, something which she does repeatedly. Their relationship is toxic, the kind that friends will spot early on but which erodes from the inside out over time and numerous instances of misplaced judgement. If you are looking to feel warm and fuzzy inside, then rent Sleepless in Seattle and bask in the rays of Sam and Annie’s long-awaited Empire State union. However, what Nora Ephron’s film won’t make you privy to is Sam’s ongoing battle with Class A drugs and the lingering STD Annie contracts during her hen night. Romance is all well and good but Love has different goals entirely.
What Noé attempts is admirable in the extreme as it doesn’t pander to its audience or look to offer tidy resolutions to the plight of its protagonists. In that respect, it is very much in tune with the emotional wrecking ball we call love. However, it isn’t without its downsides. For starters, its often overwhelming lack of warmth makes Love a hard beast to adulate, at least on an emotional level. This is not a criticism per se and more observation than anything else but 135 minutes of personal turmoil can be a long slog when hope is at such a premium. Despair, on the other hand, is free-flowing and any ultimate redemption is both slight and unpronounced.
On a technical level, it’s a mixed bag also. I believe Benoît Debie to be one of the most dexterous cinematographers on the planet and some of his photography here further bolsters my claim. That said, after the airborne gymnastics he provided for Enter The Void, his approach here is a lot more grounded. Again, not splitting hairs, just stating the obvious. The lovemaking scenes are likely to be the talking point for most audiences long after the end credits have rolled and, as expected, they are mostly unchoreographed and unflinchingly real.
There is little gratuitous about these fluid exchanges despite Noé’s refusal to shy away from the cum shot and, moreover, his decision to celebrate and frame it front and center. The cherry on the trifle, as it were, is that we are gifted a front seat inside an active vagina as each thrust is captured with no shortage of ingenuity. Whilst this isn’t a first for Noé, here it feels right at home.
Love is not for everyone and I would go as far as saying that its audience is so niche that it will invariably attract more displeasure than gratification. Being that it is so open with regards to sexual endeavor, many will likely approach expecting titillation and, while it more than lives up to its reputation with regards to highlighting each climax and tarnished headboard, there is a far bigger picture than simple arousal. Likewise, those looking for love, may find that they are looking in all the wrong places as there is no great revelation provided. However, as an often brutally honest character study, there is much to be gleaned from this particular courtship.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Love is both the simplest thing and the most complex in the world. Simple, because it is a no-brainer, because without him or her we could not live and because the energy it broadcasts is all that remains of us when we turn off. But love can also be extremely complex. Firstly because, in our hands, it becomes complex: A strange and sophisticated predator, mankind is the only specimen on Earth capable of self-destructing itself and annihilating its own species. It is into the field of complexity, precisely, that Gaspar Noé chooses to take us with Love.
Love is not a story of true and eternal love. It is not Sailor and Lula. The absolute and unconditional love that defies death, suffering and time is not what you will find here. And yet, as in most of his films, the mess, the destruction of what is beautiful in the life of an individual is unquestionably what fascinates Noé. Enter The Void showed what remained of a man’s life after his very avoidable murder; the despair he left after him and also perhaps the hope of a rebirth for his loved ones (hope in humanity is a very present topic in the work of the filmmaker). Noé’s film shows the desperation of a man who is confronted with the disappearance of a woman who may have been the great love of his life.
Excluding the opening and closing scenes that are certainly the most beautiful scenes of the film because they show love at its most carnal and spiritual, Love tells us less about love than fear, betrayal, jealousy, suffering, disrespect of bodies and souls, self-destruction, madness and violence. Noé focuses on a couple of young dreamers trying to find their way at a time where taboos no longer exist and who make every error humanly possible, destroying something once pure and beautiful. Because the director shows us what love is not, but could be, and because the main character realizes that he has probably destroyed the great love of his life, Noé in fact points out the true path of love. Should we consider the film back to front and fix all of the mistakes the couple make, then that path becomes clear. Indeed, as the film moves closer to its conclusion, Noé disregards the pursuits of the flesh and reveals a little bit more of the essence of love, life and light. Love is a paradox: offering its own notion of eternity, the movie concludes as true love can finally begin to express itself on our screen.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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