Synopsis: Murphy is an American living in Paris who enters a highly sexually and emotionally charged relationship with the unstable Electra. Unaware of the seismic effect it will have on their relationship, they invite their pretty neighbor into their bed.
eyelights: its cinematography. its sex scenes.
eyesores: its trite plot.
“I promise: I will love you to the end.”
Time destroys all things. So claimed writer-director Gaspar Noé in his devastating and highly-controversial masterpiece, ‘Irréversible‘. In ‘Love’, his fourth feature-length motion picture, he applies that theme to relationships and interlaces it with a heavy layer of regret.
The 2015 motion picture, which debuted out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, follows the slow decline of Murphy and Electra’s relationship from the moment that they meet at a college party to the day when she leaves him after finding out that he’d slept with his neighbour.
It’s told from his perspective two years later, as he receives a call from Electra’s distraught mother, who hasn’t heard from her in well over two months. Feeling trapped in his situation with Omi, the neigbour, with whom he had a child, he reminisces about his time with Electra.
Noé first conceived of the film before ‘Irréversible’ and offered it to Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci – who initially expressed interest and then reconsidered due to its sexually-explicit nature. Since he had already received the financing, he developed the concept for ‘Irréversible’.
‘Love’ must be a personal film: Murphy is a film student whose favourites echo Noé’s own, and many of the characters’ names coming from his own life – Murphy being his mother’s last name, his ex being named after Noé’s spouse, his son being named Gaspar and Electra’s ex being Noé.
It’s unsurprising, then, that the older Murphy has a vague resemblance to Noé at the time, though with hair, bearing a similar moustache. One gets the impression that Murphy is intended to be Gaspar Noé’s alter ego, even as the director makes an appearance as an art gallery owner.
…who happens to be Noé, Electra’s ex.
The picture is a mournful journey, as Murphy curses his life and wishes he could go back in time, leading Omi to leave with their son, telling him to “Take care of your past, and I’ll take care of his future”. He regrets having ever been separated from Electra, the love of his life.
But it’s clear that what’s at work here is a potent cocktail of misery and nostalgia, as many of us have experienced when the walls feel like they’re closing in on us. It doesn’t make it true that Electra was the love of his life. Or that his life could have been better with her.
Sentimentality is at play here.
Grief is also a factor, as Nora’s mother worries that Electra may have done something stupid, having struggled with depression in the past and gradually getting hooked on drugs. As the morning wears on and Murphy is unable to track her down, he begins to believe that she’s forever lost.
He looks back upon their times together and remembers the promise that they once made: to protect each other from those who would stand between them. But he seems completely oblivious that, not only did they forget this, they also failed to protect their relationship from themselves.
Murphy is the self-pitying type, forever playing the victim, unable to take responsibility for his own actions, casting blame as projections of his own frailties. If the relationship failed it’s partly because he’s insecure and self-absorbed; he’s unable to sustain his passion and devotion.
And ‘Love’ is filled with passion, as the two lovers get lost in each other. Noé’s intention was to shoot love from a sexual point of view and he did an admirable job of it, showing the affection and tenderness of young lovers in their early encounters and its degradation with time.
The sex in ‘Love’ is shot beautifully, like pretentious art, but it’s borderline pornographic, explicitly showing the couple and other partner in all their intimacy. In fact, the very first shot of the picture is Murphy and Electra stroking each other, splayed for the camera.
It’s pretty hot.
‘Love’ isn’t for the easily offended in that it clearly shows penetration and there are plenty of shots of erect penises and ejaculations. Never one to balk at gimmickry, Noé had the picture released in 3D, with hilarious come spurts shooting at the screen and dripping over the picture.
It’s moments like these that cheapen ‘Love’, which aims to be a modern ‘Ai no korīda‘ but ends up feeling like a pervert’s version of a teen drama. Perhaps it holds a truth for Gaspar Noé, but the plot is too thin to convey it properly; it’s even said that the script was seven pages long.
That’s not to say that ‘Love’ doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. It is a beautifully-crafted film, made with intention. It looks amazing. The sex, though explicit, is also erotic, at times deeply sexy. And its portrayal of the lifespan of a dying relationship isn’t entirely unrealistic.
But Murphy and Electra, for all their physical beauty, aren’t exactly endearing: he is pathetic and she is erratic. And thus all the beauty that one encounters in Noé’s so-called “real emotional sex” is cast to the four winds by the reality of imperfect people imperfectly in love.
Ironically, it doesn’t get more three-dimensional than that.
As Murphy sits in the bath feeling sorry for himself, imagining that Electra is back in his arms, that they’ll never leave each other again, one can’t help but wonder if this is how Gaspar Noé feels about his life; ‘Love’ may fail to make us care about Murphy, but it still makes us feel.
It’s an emotional journey from red hot to blue.
Date of viewing: January 7, 2017