Paleo Retiree writes:
As a huge fan of the filmmaker Gaspar Noé as well as a partisan of the erotic chamber drama genre, I’m sorry to report that I found Noé’s most recent film — the Paris-set erotic chamber drama “Love,” shot in 3-D — a near-total snoozefest.
In “Irreversible,” Noé told the tale of a rape and a beating as a metaphor for the suicide of Europe. In “Enter the Void,” he took off from “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” to evoke the bardo experiences of a young hipster overdosing in today’s Tokyo. They’re rambunctious and exuberant experimental horror movies. Noé is simultaneously a libertine, a voluptuary, a satirist, a druggy and a reactionary — an over-the-top, cosmopolitcan visionary/provocateur who’s also a surprisingly sly, humorous, suave guy. He often reminds me of Céline, Sade, Buñuel and Houellebecq.
In “Love,” though, little seems to go right. The film isn’t a trainwreck — everything in it is consciously chosen and skillfully done. The results just don’t make much of an impact. (Or they didn’t on me.) There are a few moments when the film starts to take hold in the freaky manner of a drug trip; some prankish humor and erotic audacity send out bolts of energy; Noé’s determination to portray sex as a tender and everyday thing is touching and convincing; and his cast of young unknowns (Karl Glusman as an American film student in Paris, Aomi Muyock as his unstable ex girlfriend, and Klara Kristin as a youngster he manages to impregnate) all deserve applause for daring and self-exposure. But generally speaking “Love” is as sober and plain as a late Eric Rohmer film.
Noé wheeled his camera about like a GoPro on acid in “Irreversible” and “Enter the Void”; he seemed determined to push the “camerawork” thing far beyond the usual subjective-or-objective categories. In “Love,” by contrast, he has chosen to keep his camera nearly immobile. It seems, in fact, bolted to a tripod and then nailed down to the floor. Noé also seems fascinated by the tableau-vivant-esque quality that 3-D can impose on onscreen action. Over and over, whether inside or outdoors, we’re presented with what seems to be a 10’x10’x10′ space-box in front of the camera. The people and props within the box have some 3-D qualities, but everything around them feels flat, as though projected onto a green screen. The effect is a little like watching one of those early silent movies that are head-on, static-camera records of theater performances, and the film’s own energy level feels as bolted down as its cameras.
I’ve flailed a bit trying to come up with a reason why I found the film monotonous and dull. Here’s my best shot at an explanation: “Love” is an erotic chamber drama with no psychology — and that’s just very unsatisfying. Noé isn’t a Bergman or a Bertolucci, so fascinated by his characters’ souls that he wants to scrutinize them in minute detail. Instead he’s an ideas kinda guy — as transfixed by philosophical questions as sci-fi authors often are. (He has often talked about what a fan he is of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”) His One Big Idea in “Love” is “meaning.” In scene after scene we’re made to understand that what these young people — with their fucking-around and drama-storms, as they move from apartments to threesomes to sex clubs — are really pursuing is meaning. And that’s it. There’s no unfolding of personality, and there’s no peeling-away-the-layers of character, pleasure, obsession, quirk and drive, which is where the juice of a successful erotic chamber drama tends to come from. And so we’re stuck with an austerity of surface and means without a rich or layered psychological/emotional payoff.
But part of me feels like I’m being unfair, that I’m dissing the movie for not being something it isn’t trying to be. (The first rule for critics: Do your best to grant the artist his premises.) Why shouldn’t Noe try to fuse “Last Tango” and “2001”? While it looks like a fuck-till-you-die chamber drama, Bertolucci’s own “The Dreamers” (recommended) is really a spectacle — a nostalgic celebration of a long-past era. That’s proof you can use the form for nonstandard ends, isn’t it?
Still … nah. I may be committing a critical faux pas, but I’m sticking with my explanation.