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Love | Review

Scorpio Becomes Electra: Noé’s Sex Scenes from a Marriage

Love Noe Poster AlchemyThe last time we were caught in provocateur Gaspar Noé’s crosshairs it was back in 2009 with Enter the Void, which ended on an orgasmic crescendo by literally fucking the audience. He’s back with more of that kind of sex stuff with Love, a memory poem as sexual odyssey/obsession told via the nostalgia of its tortured protagonist. Sexually explicit, but not necessarily distasteful, Noé is simply showing the general mechanics of people having sex. The rest of the narrative, seeking to explore the undoing of a passionate, youthful relationship, is nothing new as it explores the mundane inevitability of monogamy and how solving such an issue in a union based mostly on sexual attraction proves to be difficult. For those not titillated by a generous helping of spurting fluids and erect penises (including another vagina-cam shot), it’s easy to tire of its rather uncharismatic characters and their banal problems. But at the same time, it’s unique to seeNoé presenting these petty squabbles with such earnestness, and even if a running time of two hours plus seems excessive, it’s an artfully made examination of sexual and romantic experiences rarely committed so bluntly to film. And in 3D, no less.

A naked heterosexual couple massage each other’s genitals in the opening frame. Moments later, the man, Murphy (Karl Glusman), wakes next to a blonde woman, Omi (Klara Kristin), in his one bedroom apartment. Blearily, he wakes, and we hear his inner thoughts as a child bleats in another room. We gather it is New Year’s Day and he’s been awakened by a phone call from someone named Nora, who happens to be the mother of his ex-girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock). According to Nora’s voicemail, Electra has been missing for two months. His ex-girlfriend, the woman from the opening sequence, was dating him when they met Omi, the next door neighbor. The couple engaged Omi in a three way, and later, when Murphy went back to have one-on-one sex with Omi, he accidentally got her pregnant, which caused the dissolution of his relationship with Electra. Omi is not too thrilled Nora called and takes the baby out for the day while Murphy collects himself. Taking some opium he had been saving from his last friendly interaction with Electra, Murphy spends the rainy day reflecting on the love he foolishly lost.

Much of this feels like Noé was already beaten to the punch by Michael Winterbottom with his film 9 Songs, and your reaction to that title may determine your interest here. Technically, Love feels very much like a film from Noé, utilizing DoP Benoit Debie once again to create some gorgeously shot sexual sequences, even if the artistic choices may go unnoticed due to our unfamiliarity with certain images outside of pornography.

An orgy scene in a sex club is transformed into a sea of writhing shadows, while Paris becomes a vague backdrop for the all-consuming affair of Electra and Murphy. During their relationship, Murphy, an aspiring film director, has his apartment filled with movie memorabilia, posters of Lang’s M, Pasolini’s Salo, and Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation floating into view amidst the fucking and red neon. These elements are all absent in the sterile, drained present where a pudgier Murphy cried to himself and reflects within the same apartment.

The performances from the trio of newcomers are generally alright, though certainly the physical demands of their roles tend to garner more attention than the dialogue. Glusman resembles a mournful, youthful Michael Shannon, though not with the same kind of screen presence. More effective is Muyock as Electra, who we initially meet shrieking as if she were auditioning for the Beatrice Dalle role in Betty Blue.

Love may only be surprising (despite its writhing, naked bodies) in how tame it is considering it was directed by Gaspar Noé, man of the nine-minute anal rape sequence in Irreversible. On the other hand, it’s his most pleasant minded film to date. To quote Harlan Ellison, however, “Love ain’t nothing’ but sex misspelled.”

Reviewed on May 21 at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival – Midnight Screening. 135 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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