Love – Review ***

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Forget about love, said Lars von Trier a couple of years ago with Nymphomaniac.  Not so fast, says Gaspar Noé and his new film, provocatively named Love. You may have seen the marketing campaign – 3D porn, wink wink, nudge nudge. But be aware – if you came for the nasty, you’ll take some heavy relationship philosophy with it, and don’t expect a climax (not a narrative one, at least) – we’re talking about hardcore European Art House, after all.

Murphy (Karl Glusman) is an American living in Paris. He is in a relationship with native Electra (Aomi Muyock). Things seem to be going okay, despite the differences between the two (mostly originated from the tension between the open-minded European and the possessive American), but everything changes when the couple decides to invite the pretty blonde neighbour for some horizontal action…

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With a script which was 7 pages long and plenty of room for improvisation, Noé once again makes an art of non-chronological narrative, avoiding the gimmicks normally associated with it (no twists or big reveals, sorry, Nolan fans). Love feels like an apparently random bunch of diary scraps, read in voice-over and punctuated by some discreet electronic Satie soundtrack. Murphy, who’s a filmmaker and some kind of director’s projection, wants to make films about sex, semen and blood – real emotional sexuality. It’s not the subtlest meta reference we’ve seen – prepare to feel awkward about baby Gaspar and ex-boyfriend Noe (played by, guess, the director himself) – but again, when we’re given black frames in every single cut of the film, we’re clearly not in Immersive Cinema Land anymore. Glusman plays Murphy and his own character development refusal in a believable way (his childlike looks are probably the only reason we decide not to hate him), while Muyock (here in her first role) doesn’t manage to give Electra as much charisma as needed for us to believe in Murphy’s obsession – but, at least, she and the script resist the manic pixie dream girl trope with some success.

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The Murphy’s Law of unfortunate events go, in case you hadn’t heard, surrounded by some very explicit sex scenes, that are, strangely enough, the most beautiful moments of the film. Shot as no porn ever was (by the lens and incredible talent of Benoît Debie, the man behind Irreversible and Spring Breakers), the sex itself, framed like a Rembrandt, is unglamorous, animal-like, and very unromantic (most of the times Murphy and Electra don’t even look at each other). And yet, the genius of it is exactly that – in a story of obsessive, destructive love, we only believe they actually love each other when biology does the talking. Now, we don’t think having a 3D ejaculating penis is somehow the biggest thing that happened in cinema this year (not in the year we recovered George Miller from dancing penguins, gods damn it), but if having it in the Cannes big screen means a new sexual narrative revolution is cumming, so be it.

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It’s easy to see its flaws, but Love is a daring and bold filmic essay, and it it has the best depiction of hardcore sex as an actual part of a narrative in cinema so far. Maybe the dialogues are too heavy. Maybe we could have done with stronger actors. Still, Noé manages to create a compelling story told by a very unsympathetic main character (a “dick”, in his own words, both literal and metaphorically), tease us with the promise of a redemption (or resolution) and leave us thus unsatisfied. Don’t buy into the !!!3D Porn!!! advertising. It’s just a love story that doesn’t fade to black when they take off their clothes. It was doomed from the start, but then again, all good love stories are…

Love has been in UK cinemas from 20th November 2015.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.