Gaspar Noé Retrospective: ‘Love’

Gaspar Noé’s erotic drama is one of visual mastery and captivating storytelling.

CREDIT: Les Cinémas de la Zone

Love is not just the first film I watched by Gaspar Noé but it is my favorite film of his. I would even go as far as to say that it is one of my favorite films of all time. I still remember my first time watching the film like it was yesterday. I was scrolling through Netflix and tried to find unconventional films about romance. I did not want a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy but instead a film that shows the ups and downs of love. During this time, I was also trying to watch as many films to inspire my approach to filmmaking. I researched a bit about the film and made the decision that I could not watch this film on my 42-inch tv with the audio blasting in my apartment. I sat down in front of my monitor, put on my headphones, and watched this film through my PS4. When I finished watching the film, I knew that I watched something truly special.

Love is Gaspar Noé’s fourth feature film that he originally intended to make after his feature film debut, I Stand Alone. The idea was originally pitched to Vincent Cassel and Monica Belluccia who were originally interested in making the film. Upon further reading of the script and the graphic amounts of sex needed for the film, they passed on it. Gaspar Noé was still eager to work with them thus Irreversible was born. Love is written and directed by Noé. The film premiered out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 3D.

In Love, we follow the tumultuous life of Murphy (Karl Glussman), an American film student studying in France who falls in love with a French art student named, Electra (Aomi Muyock). The couple’s romance turns hyper-sexual and both indulge in various drugs, which to be fair is not a surprise to find in a Gaspar Noé film. While exploring each other’s desires, Murphy asks Electra about her wildest sexual fantasy. Electra explains she has always wanted to have a three-way with another woman preferably a blonde skinny woman. Fast forward and the couple meets their neighbor, Omi (Klara Kristin), a young French woman who doesn’t have many connections to her family. After taking her out to eat, the two come back to Murphy’s apartment to smoke some weed and the three engage in Electra’s deepest sexual fantasy. That does not prove to be enough for Murphy as he grows an attraction to Omi, so while Electra is away with her mother he has sex with Omi again but this time the condom breaks. Omi who has a strong pro-life stance will not abort her baby. Murphy tells Electra about what happened, and their relationship deteriorates before his eyes driving Electra to go missing. Murphy worried sick about Electra who has suicidal tendencies begins to reminisce on their relationship and everything he will miss out on now that she is gone.

Love is handled with so much attention through the stylistic approach of Gaspar Noé. Every aspect of filmmaking works together to craft a realistic look of love and lust. Glussman and Muyock have an organic form of chemistry to themselves that attracts me every time they are on screen. Noé incorporates such atmospheric musical choices to create the atmosphere for a film buzzing with raw emotion. Every time I finish this film I find myself wanting to put it right back on.

I usually don’t pay much attention to internet chatter about Gaspar Noé’s films as some “hot takes” seem to miss the point entirely about what he is trying to say with his films. It is impossible to ignore the obvious complaint about this film. I mean it was the number one question throughout most of the press run for this film. Is Gaspar Noé’s Love pornography? No, pornography has one simple goal in mind. As Noé has stated before, in pornography the actresses don’t get pregnant or don’t subscribe to unconventional beauty standards but most importantly Love displays more beyond sex. Sex is a valuable aspect of the film and just as important as the emotions on display. Yes, there are moments that I can agree that Gaspar Noé included pretty much for the shock value, especially in 3D. Other than that, the sex between Murphy and Electra never feels unnecessary within the constraints of our narrative. Through their carnal love, we understand the extent of their relationship. It begins as lust, continues as infatuation, and ends in a painful heartbreak.

Something else can be found within Love that is present within the rest of Gaspar Noé’s filmography, his treatment of his male characters. Even though Electra is nowhere near being the perfect person especially after cheating on Murphy with her ex. Murphy is the one who is most examined in this film. He carries a feeling of ownership over his partner that calls back to Marcus in Irreversible. Murphy feels proud after breaking a glass over Electra’s ex’s head because he feels that he stood up for her. All he did was show everyone the level of his toxicity and embarrass her in the process. In a scene deemed controversial, the two invite a trans sex worker to have a three-way, but Murphy is visibly disgusted by the worker. This says more of the character rather than Gaspar Noé himself as some people believe the filmmaker has some homophobic tendencies in his films. Murphy is once again showcasing his ignorance, he tells Electra in the video store not to judge those involved in pornographic films because they are expressing their love freely. Yet, Murphy cannot hold that same opinion for the sex worker? He does not need to have sex with her but he invalidates her way of expressing love through her identity by showcasing his disgust toward her. Murphy is self-centered and in layman’s terms an asshole. He never once takes into consideration how Electra feels. If he was the perfect partner he believes he is at first, Murphy would have communicated way beforehand his attraction towards other women. Electra points out that Murphy could have a lot of freedom as long as he communicates what he wants. Murphy is another example of the flawed nature of the male characters found in Gaspar Noé’s films.

If you are interested in hearing a more in-depth thematic conversation about Love, please feel free to check out the episode I did with Alexandra Almeida on the film for my podcast, The Cinema Condition.

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