Porn without Pleasure: Gaspar Noé’s 3D Sex Melodrama Love

LOVE - Still 5

Love
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Opens October 30

I watched Love in a screening room in Times Square, and when the movie ended, I returned my 3D glasses and went into the street neither particularly titillated nor repulsed—just conscious of having participated in one of those lost, lamented New York traditions: watching a sex film with strangers somewhere near 42nd Street.

Should all that’s lost be sought and found again? Oh, it’s tempting. In Gaspar Noé’s fourth feature, American film student Murphy (Karl Glusman) wakes up in Paris on New Year’s Day, to a voicemail from an old girlfriend’s mother; it seems Electra (Aomi Muyock) is missing. Murphy’s now living with another woman (Klara Kristin), and their young son, but he believes Electra was the love of his life. The rest of the film is his fragmented recollection of their relationship, mostly spent high, drunk, fucking; a good time at first, and then a very bad time.

Love doesn’t run neatly backward like Irréversible; the chronology gets shuffled and scenes are revisited as Murphy searches for a thesis—did he and Electra part because of the threesome with Murphy’s teenage neighbor? Was he too jealous? Did Electra do too much cocaine? Sex couldn’t have been the problem; according to Noé, it is the lens through which being in love is remembered, and as such warrants these un-simulated performances, as well as all the vividness of 3D.

The problem with watching two hours of this, dressed up as narrative rather than pornography, is simple: sex is better had than observed. Feature-length porn scants plot because plot isn’t the point; here, the image breaking into three dimensions is ostensibly the point, but that image is tethered (half-heartedly, half-assedly, distractingly), to characters who defy the most genuine desire on behalf of the audience to transcend voyeurism; Murphy and Electra are artists with no ideas (Murphy’s Salò poster doesn’t count). Electra, we learn, is unbalanced and resultantly irresistible—but Muyock, when she’s not screaming, is stupefyingly calm, and it’s Murphy, attacking Electra’s ex with a bottle (Irréversible’s head-mashing coming back as farce) coming off as manic. There comes a moment when genuine pleasure is only to be had from watching the couple’s bed-sheets (blood-red, peach), shot by Benoît Debie. It is an easy, fundamental pleasure, and can just as well be enjoyed alone.

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