It may be called Love but the real topic of director Gaspar Noé’s new film is sex: two whole, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes uncomfortable hours of it.
Through the recollections of Murphy (Karl Glusman), an American student in Paris pining for Electra (Aomi Muyock), the French woman he lost, we see bonking in its many guises: tentative early love sex, full-throttle infatuation sex, spiteful break-up sex. Sex between a man and a woman, sex between a man and two women, sex between a man and woman and a transsexual, sex between groups of strangers in a sex club. At one point we’re treated to a face-to-face – or should that be head-to-head? – point of view shot of a (reportedly real) penis ejaculating out from the screen onto the audience. Did we mention it is in 3D?
Even still, it says something about Noé’s films that Love represents something of a mellowing for the Argentinian. Previous efforts include 2002’s rape-revenge drama Irreversible – considered by many upon its release to be the most shocking film ever made, a dubious honour to which it still has some claim – and 2009’s equally deranged if less headline-grabbing family drama Into The Void. Compared to those, Love feels as shocking as watching a vintage porn flick (cheesy soundtrack included).
So why bother seeing it? Well, unless you’re 13 and your modem is broken, it’s not for the writhing bodies – though the cast, particularly Swiss model and debutant Muyock, are of course uniformly gorgeous. The really interesting stuff here is when Noé explores the emotional crucible of sexual jealousy and sometimes-blurred line between fantasy and true desire.
Murphy and Electra embark on a journey together that breaches frontier after frontier, but rather than bring them closer together, it slowly tears them apart. More could have been made of this, but you feel it would have got in the way of Noé’s stated main aim: to make a film that celebrates sex in a joyous way, or as he put it somewhat clunkily at Cannes, “gives guys a hard-on and makes girls cry”.
Whether it achieves that aim we’ll leave for you to figure out (and keep to yourself), but beyond the titillation, there’s just about enough in this self-indulgent but, yes, joyous film to justify a cinema trip. Just don’t take a first date.
Love is out on 20 November