I wasn’t sure Noe was going to make another film. He shot to prominence with Irreversible, a shattering backwards narrative that forced the audience to confront the grim reality of brutal vengeance before knowing what had led the protagonist to that point, while a woozy disembodied camera floated us uncertainly through Paris from scene to scene, back in time.
Emboldened, and fattened with the gold of investment, Noe made his epic: Enter the Void. It cost a few million, and it made rather fewer million. A four hour journey into the life and afterlife of a lost soul in the seedier areas of Tokyo. It was a bad trip for people afraid of actually having a bad trip. We went backwards again, but also forwards, and into fantasy worlds, memories, nightmares and the nightmare that reality is when one can view events without being able to have an effect on them. A financial sinkhole, it apparently led to Noé vanishing for a number of years.
Love was his reemergence. I tried not to approach it as though it was merely his version of Lars Von Trier’s pretty much contemporary Nymphomaniac Parts I and II, even though that similarly represented a grim, grizzly, melancholic artist deciding to try sex in as much detail as he could get away with.
Where Nymphomaniac features self aware characters cod-philosophising while flashing back to every sexual conquest and humiliation the 4-6 hour running time will allow, Love is ignorant, hypocritical – but human – characters bumbling and fucking their way through life, making and breaking promises for every cum shot in the film. And there are a fair few.
Maybe this was a palette cleanser after Void cleaned out the coffers; a way for Gaspar to show that he can still actually make films. In my head, he had a lengthy series of dark nights of the soul after his big project made back about a tenth of its cost. Though I admired it greatly, it must have stung, not only in terms of finding financiers, but because he must have been expecting great things from what was in a funny way a masterpiece of cinematic vision, simulating hallucinogens through a purely visual and sonic medium, melding the visual and sonic so well (it does have pretty much the greatest opening credits sequence ever, thanks in no small part to the late, great Loiner Mark “LFO” Bell), and meditating very effectively on the nature of mortality and what the physical plane represents.
Love, despite its characters’ protestations, is not so high-minded. You’ve once again got the non-linear narrative, questions answered through flashback and fantasy. But our lead man Murphy (Karl Glusman) is a would-be film maker, who wants to make films about the sentiment of sex, and wants to call any kid he plans to have Gaspar. He realises eventually that he’s not such a great artist.
He’s married and has a kid and isn’t life such a drag, because he’s imprisoned, and it’s not so long ago that he was being sexy and sensual and free with Electra (Aomi Muyock). Electra was also an artist, but the crux of the tale is that her mum has left a message saying she’s not seen Electra in a couple of months. Electra had been having suicidal thoughts. Cue guilt-driven flashback as Murphy tries to piece together where it all went wrong.
Where it all went wrong for him, of course! Forget the poor girl who might be dead. He wants nookie! I don’t know the director’s intention around whether he wanted Murphy to appear sympathetic, but he’s not. He’s flawed and stupid, which I guess makes him a person. He likes sharing fantasies with Electra, as long as they’re fantasies that he enjoys and don’t gross him out or make him jealous. He may have sex with other women, but heaven forbid Electra carries on in a similar manner.
Electra even has a relationship with a fellow called Noe (I’m sure there is some subtext about how Murphy’s toddler son Gaspar is the embodiment of innocence in this particular world, whereas Noe is the worldly-wise businessman who does what he wants, and maybe that’s what I want to say by making this film. I want to recapture the real me. The kid who wants to create rather than the gross, old businessman I have become. But people will only pick on such nuance if I name two characters after myself), which leads to jealous Murphy bottling him, getting arrested and telling the interviewing officer how much he can’t stand France. Maybe that’s a microcosm of current US politics abroad.
I won’t tell you whether Electra is dead or not, but for a sentimental, sexual film it is pretty bleak. Not quite as cold and grim as Nymphomaniac at least, and while I’m not really one for watching people have sex, such scenes are generally very well communicated, both visually and sonically. The soundtrack is fucking brilliant (and long term Noé fans will recognise a few pieces), and the use of colour is pretty staggering at times. But it can all too often seem like Tumblr porn made for the big screen; one of those early Weeknd songs from when he was good, stretched out to two hours. An American Apparel advert without the apparel. And we get a return of the penis cam from Enter The Void – joy.
So it’s good but not amazing. It’s a strangely touching (hush you) look at mortality, how time – and place – pass you by, and asks questions about what we mean by love. Or by promises, for that matter. Maybe it’s a classic, and I’m just envious because I didn’t live like that in my 20s. I just hope that Gaspar and Lars have now got this out of their system, and they have had their fill of cocks and jizz. When you find yourself longing for Antichrist and Irreversible, you know something is wrong…