Damning issues are presented in Love (2015), Gaspar Noé’s latest film. As the writer-director has stated, though, this is life. And life is life: cheating, lying, self-destruction, vicious fights, and habitual drug use are so common in relationships he has observed—particularly with young couples. The accuracy of this presentation might leave many viewers wincing at what they see gazing back at them from the other side of the looking-glass of the movie screen.
Known for a body of work that is confrontational, Noé brings to his latest film a different, less violent or hallucinatory tone. His most infamous film, Irréversible (2001), contained unflinching content, ranging from a too realistic head-crushing via fire extinguisher and ten minute lock-off shot where his lead Alex (Monica Bellucci) screams in anguish as she is raped in an alley.
With Love, Noé shows something just as unflinching—an unsentimental view of human relationships. There is tenderness, joy and affection between the film’s lovers, Electra (Aomi Muyock) and Murphy (Karl Glusman)—but there is also the inevitable everyday cruelty and self-sabotage found, as Noé had observed time again in young people’s relationships.
While Noé has set a bar for taboo before, Love’s overall frankness, featuring among its sex scenes unstimulated oral sex, within the body of a dramatic work is difficult for some to process. The film treats those scenes not as set-pieces of typical erotica, but as one among various arenas of intimacy between two people—an arena for connection and exploration, but also for argument.
Love’s sex scenes range from rough (as the physical expression of an emotional conflict) to tender (love’s first kiss). They are unapologetically unshielded from view without dominating the film’s primary focus of chronicling one couple’s struggles toward, and away from, connection—swimming and drowning in the psycho-chemical tides of chronic infatuation and chronic loneliness.
Diabolique presents an interview with Noe’s on Love.
Love and sex
Noé: I cannot separate the carnal aspects of the movie from the sentimental aspects…I mostly wanted to do a movie that looks like life. So I was not referring to any movie or any genre; I was mostly referring to life itself.
The movie’s very cheap. With the 3-D cameras and 3-D post-production and all the music rights, the whole cost was 2.5 million euros, which makes it 3 million dollars [U.S.], and so it’s a very low-budget movie—although it looks rich because it’s shot in 3-D and Cinemascope and in English. It looks like a normal American production, but it’s a very cheap movie.
It’s a more relatable story because almost every single young kid that I know has been or is going through similar situations. We’re all desperate to find a life-partner—whoever that person is—but also it’s much easier to lose your life-partner than to build a relationship. People are very suspicious because they know that it’s painful to break up, so once you’ve got into this kind of intimacy, you don’t want to get out of it.
It’s not hard-core, it’s just like ‘loving-core’. Not soft-core, not hard-core…I just wanted it to be as human as possible, but the problem is not what is shown—whether it’s ‘real’ or simulated—or not, it’s mostly that people are not used to seeing images of intimacy on a theater screen. You know those images from your private life but, for commercial reasons, those movies aren’t made or are not visible. There could be a film genre that could be a ‘love-passion’ genre; it’s far more common than bank robberies or murders or things not too many people go through but most people in America and Europe have been through addictions.
Noé: I was more excited by movies like Emmanuelle (1974) when I was a teenager. And then I was obsessed with this actress called Laura Gemser, who played Black Emmanuelle in some movies. But there are not many erotic icons around nowadays.
I think that the seventies were an era in which people enjoyed opening doors and now people are not totally closing those doors, but they’re oxidated because no one is using them. I’m surprised that after the seventies in which movies like In the Realm of the Senses (1976) were released there were other movies that suddenly integrated love scenes or sex scenes in a normal narrative, but all of that is gone. From time to time, you have one scene in some European auteur’s movie…but just one or two movies a year. And mostly those sex scenes are not joyful. In life, sex can be the most joyful scene that you can share with some other person.
Evolution of love
Noé: I initially saw the movie would be almost silent. I’d mainly consider all those scenes to be at least fifty percent of the movie and, at the end, the love scenes—because it’s not only having sex, it’s mostly kissing, hugging. I mean there are scenes that represent maybe a third of the movie now, because the actors were improvising the dialogue, and some of those acts were really touching, or funny. I didn’t expect the movie to be funny. I finally kept those talking scenes and now they represent two-thirds of the movie. The nude scenes are one-third of the movie, they still stick to your mind more than the other ones because they’re more unusual, especially if you’re not used to seeing those intimate images in a regular theater, and with 3-D glasses that you usually attach to science fiction movies or things like that.
If you’re in love with someone, and you have sex, then you feel good. Most of the sex scenes that you see in art movies are kind of painful, dysfunctional, and I still wanted to show the ecstatic, joyful aspects of carnal love, which I hadn’t done before. I had already filmed people dancing, and, you know, you can film people swimming, but when you film people kissing or having sex it’s even funnier, even if it’s simulated. You know, at the end, I think it’s a really relatable situation that people enjoy watching.
In the case of this movie also there are two moments in their relationship: one is at the beginning, in which they are in this kind of romantic ideal of mating, maybe even having babies, or at least creating some artistic baby because he says he’s a director, she says she’s a painter, but at least they would create something artistically if they don’t have kids, but they’re getting into life-term project—and then, in the consumerist world that we live, that one cannot change, makes their whole promises fall into pieces, and at a point when jealousy gets into the relationship, because they are so madly in love they are afraid of losing each other, they start also accusing the other person of things they could accuse themselves of, and from that point on the worm is inside the apple, and their whole carnal relationship becomes, I wouldn’t say darker, but it becomes more sexual in less intimate ways…I know so many couples that could have lasted if they were not partying and drinking and doing coke because then fights start and what was good becomes barren. That’s why I think many, many people can relate to this story.
A personal film
Noé: I relate and don’t relate that much to the main character, because I’m of a very sentimental nature. When you know yourself, you try to prevent thinking of the good things of the past because then you feel bad, and it’s a sign of intelligence not to spend the whole day watching the ceiling considering everything you’ve lost, but the movie’s about the loss of someone.
I wanted to play with the idea that the movie was done inside my world, but it’s not my life. If I was a young wanna-be director, I would search and watch the movies of Gaspar Noé, I would certainly have a poster of Taxi Driver (1976) and Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975). That doesn’t mean that he’s me or he’s not me—it’s like the younger brother that I would have…and who goes through similar struggles, emotional struggles, that I’ve been through, but—Yeah, I wanted to make the movie personal.
Noé: Even the choice of music that I made for the movie is very personal because this is all the music that I listen to in my everyday life. When I’m on my computer, on my iTunes, I always put stars to the songs, so that I’ll have my five-star selection, and my four-star selection. So when I was editing the movie, I was trying all this music that I love and most of them I thought I would never be able to pay the rights for them, but I tried Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain (1971) on the…scene and it worked wonderfully and then we started negotiating that song and we knew we could afford it because the record label was friendly to us. Then, I always loved the main theme of Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) by John Carpenter. When I tried that one on the scene…I thought, it’s amazing how it works and that’s my favorite piece of John Carpenter’s. So we contacted him and I also wanted another piece that he did lately and he was very friendly to me through his agent. Finally we were able to buy that music for an affordable price. So, at the end, all this music that I’m absolutely obsessed with, I put them in the movie…I relate on an emotional level to all this music—and it really changed the movie. If you see the same scenes without the music, they are from another nature. The music in my movie is important like I don’t know if you could consider the movie’s copyrighting without the soundtrack. Once you put it in, it matches so well, you can not imagine how the scene could work without it. Once it’s there, it makes sense….[A]t the end my movie turned like into a music comedy. You have one scene with dialogue, then one scene that is silent, but with music then on to a love scene, then you go back to a dialogue scene, then you go back to an action or love scene with music and a friend told me, ‘Oh, the movie has the structure of a musical comedy, and you’re always waiting for the next musical scene.’
Noé: I did not hire a casting director because the process of casting was long, otherwise I would have spent so much money with casting directors. I was just meeting people in parties, in the streets, asking friends to recommend to me other people—and originally I tried to find a couple, but I did not find a real couple, and I met Aomi [Muyock] one year before shooting, and she said, ‘I would not do the movie’ and so I kept on casting for the girl here and there, and I kept on casting for the boy and a French girl recommended me to meet this young actor who…was a big fan of my movies, so I Skyped him, and we talked for a while on Skype, and the same thing happened with Aomi. You have to be instinctive whenever you see someone who could be good for the movie—in a restaurant, in a party, in an office, or in the street—just try to get their number, and I had a notebook full of numbers or emails. And then of course you could only match if the couple was believable.
But then also at the end, once you know all the characters you’ve written and you’re telling the story of…when you shoot people from that close, you know, every single face movement is readable on an unconscious level, and at the end also the charisma of the humans that are feeling, whether they’re actors or not—it’s much stronger than the story that you’re telling.