It must be hard being labelled as a “provocateur” these days. In this hardly shockable 21st century, to be a filmmaker of outrage must come with such exorbitant amount of pressure that you’re constantly trying to outdo your previous work or push to the extremities all in the name of provocation just to live up to the name. Go ask Lars von Trier. The man went to hell and back for it. There’s only so much tits, cocks and penetration shots you can pack into a sex movie until it all becomes anaesthetised from the full intended effect on the people who watch it, which is Visceral Impact to the non-porn viewing audience. But in this day and age when pretty much everyone else has seen a porn film at least once (unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool puritan or someone who lives in the Dark Age and have no access to the internet whatsoever), the Provocative Sex Movie subgenre is only really interesting when there’s a great drama beneath the whole erotica. After all, narrative is what sets cinema apart from pornography. Without it, or simply even the lack of it, we might as well just watch straight-up porn without having to worry about story and dialogue.
Whether you buy Love as either a genuine cinematic attempt to demystify Human Sexuality or simply a by-product of Noé’s insufferable narcissism, there’s no denying the kind of vision Noé has given us, this arty sex movie that takes place inside the great crevice of his arse.
This is the major issue I have with Gaspar Noé’s Love. Understandably, this the French-Argentinian director’s attempt to give us a transcendent and taboo-breaking sex movie the way Bernardo Bertolucci did in 70s with Last Tango in Paris or von Trier did last year with Nymphomaniac. But unlike these masterpieces, Love doesn’t turn out to be even half as good purely because Noé doesn’t invest in a bildungsroman, or narrative building, that gives us some intellectual meat to chew on in between scenes of seemingly endless fucking, fellatio and cumshots. It’s 2015 already, and sexual shenanigans are so last year. What the modern audience need are ideas, and there’s very little intellectual investment to be had here. Noé’s downright terrible and stilted dialogues don’t help either. Whenever Noé wants you to feel the existential crisis his main character Murphy goes through, he siphons in a screenplay that reads somewhat like this:
I wish I didn’t exist right now. I feel like I’m trapped in a cage.
Cue pained look on Murphy’s face, head on his hands, as he feels the walls of the claustrophobic room closing in. Girlfriend on the bed. Their baby, crying.
Noé states the obvious at every opportunity. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for subtlety from the director of Irreversible and Enter the Void, two of the most soul-and-retina pulverising movies ever made, but at least a sense of regard for his audience’s intellectual capacity would be nice. And he denies us that. Instead of allowing his visuals to speak for themselves, Noé preposterously writes some of the most prosaic and tedious narrations in contemporary cinema.
Furthermore, to name your film after the most universal of human emotions must be a testament to some ambitions of profundity and achievement of Great Art, but instead of fully exploring the intoxicating, maddening, destructive force of human sexuality through combustible dramaturgy or at least an engaging narrative, Noé gives us vignettes of half-measured, half-baked scenes that feel regurgitated from his previous movies. Karl Glusman’s Murphy is really Oscar from Enter the Void, and the flashback, backwards-narrative structure is a repetition of Irréversible. Whether you buy Love as either a genuine cinematic attempt to demystify Romance and Human Sexuality or simply a by-product of Noé’s insufferable narcissism (Murphy’s son is named Gaspar, natch), there’s no denying the kind of vision Noé has given us, this arty sex movie that takes place inside the great crevice of his arse.