By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.
Writer and director Gasper Noe’s Love is nowhere near as revolutionary as what he has provided viewers beforehand. These are 1998’s excellent thriller, I Stand Alone, 2002’s Irreversible and 2009’s Enter the Void. Yet, it remains a largely satisfying expression of film as liberation and as art.
True to the form of Noe’s previous work his latest has a fearless spirit. This is a topic expressed outright in a portion of credible second act dialogue. Because of this the unrated feature displays its NC-17 equivalent proudly throughout its 135 minutes.
What we also hear rippling through the mouths of its leads is the thesis statement of the movie. This is that Noe’s endeavor wishes to be a sentimental expression of ardor. It is one fashioned through the lens of sexuality. Such an achievement certainly arises with a build-up of subtle power after a lumbering first half hour. Regardless, it is never as maudlin as such a concept could’ve easily become. Also, it is never as bitter as it appears to be in the opening sequences.
These initial thirty minutes do have moments of intrigue. This element shines even when our lead, Murphy (Karl Glusman, in a performance which gets better as the script offers him better material) is at his most loathsome. During these early segments he spends the time apparently aimless. His intent is only on elucidating a general mean-spiritedness.
Here he mumbles tired observations. This is done in a weak attempt at narration. These concern the title emotion, and his life, to the audience. It becomes grating quick. Luckily, this is largely abandoned as the composition moves on.
Even in this desperate stretch our interest is captivated. This occurs in these blind-spot moments through the gorgeous shots Noe evokes. These are made all the more jaw-dropping by his utilization of his trademark non-linear style. Such elements illuminate more than it should with a narrative as simple the one Noe gives us. This is due to the audience mentally scrambling to put the story pieces together.
What also helps us overlook these initial problems is that the cinematography by Benoit Debie is just as lush and Noe’s style dictates. This transcendent beauty makes much of Noe’s framing appear all the more masterful. It is like watching a succession of brilliant paintings brought to life in rapid succession through the medium of a moving picture.
Most intriguingly, the film’s personality often mirrors Murphy himself. At first it seems cold and distant. But, as it slowly peels away its intricate layers it gradually lets us deeper into the lives of those dominating the screen. This is proven as the chronicle slowly opens up and takes its time revealing its ardent core.
Noe’s sensual drama hits an undeniable stride of excellence. This is especially true from the hour mark until the emotionally gripping and strangely beautiful climax. The note is heightened as the last sight is frozen to over the end credits sequence. It is just one of the many wonderful tricks the director effortlessly delivers.
Love, especially in its second half, reminded me of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s work from the 60’s and 70’s. Much in this spirit, Noe slyly incorporates personal viewpoints, often regarding politics and cinema, into the discourse which ring with an everyday validity. We can easily imagine passing by these people on the streets and hearing such a conversation. It is also a clever, entertaining way of providing exposition that doesn’t seem spoon fed and unnatural.
It is this high-style which salvages the otherwise standard issue story. The exertion oversees Murphy and his lover, Electra (Aomi Muyock, in an exceptional portrayal which culminates believability at every turn). Hoping to make their fantasies become reality they add a third component to their relationship, Omi (Klara Kristen, in another well-done and charismatic performance).
Kristen’s character is used as a varied symbol throughout. This only adds to our fascination. The final use of this representation is the most interesting of them all. It adds punctuation to an already highly metaphoric, stunning climax.
In hindsight, the tale is simply a jumping off point for the experience Noe yearns to evoke. If this wasn’t so uniquely structured, uplifting and moving the familiarity of the chronicle could’ve sunk the movie down to mediocrity. Instead Noe seems intent on taking these commonplace motions as a challenge. This is one meant to break through their mundane constraints. In turn, he wishes to create something entirely new. This he succeeds in doing many times over.
Some elements do come off in a clichéd manner. These are especially evident when Noe seems to be reaching melodramatically. Regardless, the ultimate result is well-rounded, satisfying cinematic feast. It is one that both the mind and eye consumes with eager delight.
The sensual sequences are certainly well-done. They illustrate their intended effect. One extended bit, which transpires around the thirty-five minute mark, runs seven minutes. Yet, it never appears excessive. The feature continuously balances the emotional and the carnal without neglecting one for the other.
There is also often an underlying eroticism to much of the conversational moments. In turn, the instances that focus on physical intimacy never seem as if they are too far removed from the character oriented focus. It also never loses its dominant gaze on their concerns. This is what really gives the piece its heart.
Dennis Bedlow and Noe’s editing is sharp. The visual effects credited to ten individuals has rough touches of obvious C.G.I. that otherwise come off as seamless. Music supervisor Pascal Mayer gives us work that appears often conventional during the amatory sections. In its more dramatic moments the score issued seems a perfect fit. These technical aspects help propel the endeavor to its fantastic consequence.
There are a few moments which seem almost laughable. One involves a slow-motion close-up on genitalia near the ninety minute mark. They take away, however briefly, from this otherwise immersive experience. Moreover, they seem designed specifically for its 3-D format. It seems low-brow and out of place.
I have no problem calling Love one of the ten best films I have seen in the year. Regardless, it is not a full-fledged masterpiece. Furthermore, it does not approach the high benchmark Noe has set for himself in his three prior efforts.
Still, there is an admiration for the craft radiating through the emblematic and surface appeal. It endlessly garners our attention. This component is victorious even when the exertion is at its worst. Moreover, it makes the shortcomings forgivable.
Like Noe’s prior films, Love lingers in the mind long after the endeavor is finished. This is a haunting love letter to the spirit of cinema. It will merit additional watches. In turn, we may glean many new wonders, intricacies and nuances that we missed the first time around.