In Gaspar Noe’s first film Carne, the opening scene features the slaughter of a real horse - a fitting opening statement from someone who would become one of the world’s preeminent film provocateurs. Unafraid of portraying violence, sex and other things that might be considered "difficult," Noe followed up his debut with I Stand Alone, Irreversible and Enter the Void, films that shocked and challenged their audiences but also revealed an artist with unique vision and flair.
His latest film, the 3D sex opus Love, continues Noe’s filmography of beautiful, explicit and emotionally charged cinema. A story about a doomed romance set in Paris between American film student Murphy and French free-spirit Electra, Love feels like Noe’s most personal film to date. In our exclusive interview, I asked him about what inspired the film, his process of making it and of course, the sex scenes.
I wrote the first draft about 13 years ago. I hadn’t seen a love story on screen that really portrayed what we understand of love and all the issues that love addiction can bring. Ecstasy, the pain, the dancing, the fucking, the competition. I also wanted to portray a kind of ideal living that I had 10 years ago. Going out, clubs, partying, talking with friends.
Like some of Noe's other work, Love jumps around in time, following Murphy’s memories as he thinks back on his relationship with Electra. We see good and bad, quiet moments of intimacy and hateful screaming matches in cabs. And we see sex. A lot of it and in clear detail. After it’s premiere at Cannes, many people thought the sex scenes were too graphic to be fake.
Who said it’s real? I don’t think in movie making it needs to be real to look real. I think the actors were very intelligent and beautiful and charismatic. They don’t mind so much to be naked in front of the camera and with each other. We also didn’t rely on rehearsal and having to do this or do that. They knew what to do. Karl (the actor who plays the lead, Murphy) was very friendly and built a lot of confidence and trust around him and even though everyone was just meeting, there was connection between actors. That’s what you see.
Like most of Noe’s protagonists, Murphy is a bit of an anti-hero with obvious flaws that the character himself realizes as he explores his past. This slow realization is one of the most powerful aspects of the film. We feel Murphy’s regret and self-loathing as he realizes that he is responsible for his own fate, an inner drama that lead actor Karl Glusman carries well.
A lot of people say I have characters who think they are winners when they are losers. But really he’s just a normal character and not some hero. He’s that guy in the bar who is funny but maybe not as courageous as he thinks. At the end of a movie, what you see is the charisma of the people who are on screen. That’s what makes them more attractive beyond the situations in the movie. Karl is naturally a very joyful, charismatic actor. If another actor played Murphy, maybe the character would have been more hateable.
Visually, the film is filled with the Gaspar Noe aesthetic. Surreal visuals coupled with deep, saturated color schemes and long, lingering camera shots. Love was also filmed in 3D, a curious choice for what is mostly a melodrama and a new approach for Noe.
Novelty is always enjoyable. I thought 3D would be more playful. It’s a new toy to play with. Most 3D movies are big budget but I think there’s something interesting that comes out when you watch a movie like this in 3D. It’s like puppet theater. It’s a bit surreal.
Noe’s films have always been challenging for not only the audience but his collaborators. They require fierce commitment and trust between everyone. And Noe finds a way to do this, whether with French A-listers like, Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel in Irreversible or with his young cast in Love.
Making a movie is a connection between people. Not just the actors but the people behind the camera. Me, my cinematographer, etc. And all these new people who don't know each other come together and say yes because of an instinct that they can trust you and that you can create something together.
Noe’s reputation as a cinematic bad boy will no doubt be further reinforced by the provocative Love. But if one is to take anything away from this daring, intimate and visually sumptuous film it’s that Noe continues to be an auteur who pushes the envelope.