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Gaspar Noé has rushed in where Lars von Trier has rather recently tread: Noé’s Love is von Trier’s 2014 Nymphomaniac all over again, i.e. porn in the name of art.
Do you like to watch? Don’t answer sofast. Even the most prurient may grow weary during Love’s uncompelling two hours and 15 minutes. Whereas the ridiculousness of von Trier’s two-parter lay in its forced intellectualism and clear pretension, Noé (Irréversible, Enter the Void) has created another wannabe-shocker that’s just simply bad.
The film opens with an extended overhead scene of a couple mutually masturbating while a score worthy of a Merchant Ivory production plays. Then the man, Murphy (Karl Glusman), wakes up in the next scene, apparently hungover on New Year’s Day, next to somebody else as a baby cries.
And this is when his internal monologue begins. You may think that the nodding-out flatness of Glusman’s line readings is a reflection of Murphy’s morning bleariness, but his intonation never wavers, even though we’re treated to his thoughts until the credits roll. “Is the whole year going to be like this,” he muses. “Oh my God, this is a nightmare. I wish I didn’t exist right now. This place is a cage.”
Just when you imagine that Glusman’s acting couldn’t get any more rudimentary, he thinks, “Always looking over my shoulder.” And guess what? He actually looks over his shoulder.
Glusman’s blankness not only makes for a grating main character, but his portrayal of Murphy—an American—is so personality-free it’s impossible to understand why Electra (Aomi Muyock), gorgeous and French, so frequently declares her love for him. He’s an aspiring filmmaker, wanting “to make movies out of blood, sperm, and tears” (huh, sounds like a familiar director) and she an aspiring artist, but they fuck more often than they talk. The turning point in their doomed relationship seems to have been when they invited a very young neighbor (Klara Kristin) into their bed after Murphy asks Electra what her ultimate fantasy is. “Fuck with another girl? This is my dream, too,” he says, because everyone talks that stiffly.
Oh, and did I mention that Love is in 3D? And that the French government helped fund it?
The third dimension—you can probably guess what it’s used for—is the final nail to dismiss Love as a silly project of self-indulgence. (The name of Murphy’s kid? Gaspar.) The slight story of Murphy and Electra’s relationship and sexual escapades is told in flashback as Murphy’s memories—with blips of blackness separating present and past, and the past often shaded in darkness and reds. Eventually, though, those black screens pop up—frequently—during normal scenes, their intended effect unclear.
Of course, the sex is the thing: It is hardcore, and it is endless. The fated threesome lasts seven minutes, but the tangle of limbs and tongues feels like an eternity. Handjob after handjob, bush after bush, quivers and moans and writhing—it’s somehow inert, and gets old fast. You can’t feel the attraction between Murphy and Electra when they’re already naked the first time they’re introduced. And you really can’t feel Electra’s attraction to him at all. What Noé sought to achieve with the clunky Love is as mysterious as their passion. Like the couple, if you’re looking for titillation, consider seeking it elsewhere.
Love opens Friday at the Angelika Pop-Up.