“You’re a dead fuck,” someone told Crispin Glover in a certain movie years ago, and that’s the perfect way to respond to Gaspar Noè’s new erotic 3D drama Love. Turgid and aimless, dire in its lack of the director’s previous invention, danger, passion and elastically restless camera, Love does nothing for sex on film besides make it boring—I almost walked out and nearly fell asleep about a half dozen times—while the only kind of sex it really emphasizes is masturbation, namely of the directorial kind (Characters name their baby “Gaspar” for Chrissakes!)
For two hours and fifteen minutes we’re stuck with Murphy (Karl Clusman) and Electra (Aomi Muyock) a couple in Paris redefining solipsism through nakedness. Their bedroom trysts are athletic and dually beneficial, as we see in the opening shot: a long, unbroken take of mutual masturbation that’s as explicit as it is compositionally flat. There’s been much hubbub about the lack of talent shown by the amateur actors here, but I thought Clusman and Muyock's improvisational line readings possessed a refreshing rawness. (Murphy’s late film lament of “I’m lost” has a lack of studied cadence and is thus not mannered.) The blame for Love’s failure rests soley on Noè’s shoulders.
Provocateurs can be artists too (look at Fassbinder, Harmony Korine, John Waters) and Noè has been an artist in the past. I even tolerated the weak acting and excessive naval gazing in his previous feature Enter The Void because of the sheer lush beauty of the Tokyo nightscapes and Noè’s extraordinary utilization of camera movement. Here everything is constricted when it should be most liberating.
Murphy and Electra are that classic variant of hot young couple: artists who don’t make art, primarily because they’re busy with each other and with having a life (I live in a college town so I meet their horrific kind most every day). Their repartee consists of Kubrick references (Murphy calls 2001 the greatest movie ever made, classic film school blather for the world’s most overrated director), epic clashes and hermetic boasts. Noè’s widescreen tracking shots attempt a trance-like immersion but the superficiality of Murphy and Elektra’s characters deaden the screen. Also, Noè’s grasp of English (this is his first feature in the language) recalls the awkwardness of Ingmar Bergman’s obscure Elliot Gould-starring The Touch. “I shouldn’t have taken that shit,” Murphy declares in ponderous voice-over, while later in a flashback the aspiring junkie Electra yells at him in what I assume Tommy Wiseau would think is naturalistic dialogue. After they take their underage neighbor Omi (Klara Kristin) into bed with them their already fraught relationship is further wrenched. Noè doesn’t employ traditional cuts; there’s a swift darkness between shots, which gets old fast. Rather than entering a void we get worn down by repetition. The three-way sex scene is a failed turn-on because of these aesthetic blackouts.
Unlike Godard’s game-changing use of 3D in Goodbye To Language Noè’s handling of the technology doesn’t justify the extra money for the ticket purchase. Only two shots “jump out”—a finger pointing at the audience and Murphy’s sperm careening from his erect penis—and they feel like Noè’s feeble attempt to give a bad idea some credence.
When Noè has real actors his superficial nihilism musters weight, that’s why Irreversible remains his best film. But Murphy and Electra are a long way from Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. Despite Noè’s welcome choice to leave certain plot threads hanging, and a mildly affecting conclusion, Love is an irreversible disaster, the rectum of Noè’s art. Real sex in cinema can yield remarkable results, as in the XXXs of Radley Metzger and Kirdy Stevens, and in movies like Shortbus. Emotion and narrative become memorably fused. They can also lead to meandering non-events as in Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs (Winterbottom thankfully dropped actual sex from his ambitions which has led to recent triumphs like The Trip and this year’s woefully underrated The Face Of An Angel). Love doesn’t reveal any truth about relationships, bodies, or intimacy, and Noè said the same things more profoundly in his segment for the anthology film Destricted. Here his efforts just produce a dead fuck.