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Love (2015)
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by Jay Seaver

"You don't see the like very often, even without the sex and the 3D."
4 stars

It's almost a shame that Gaspar NoƩ apparently shot "Love" entirely in native 3D, because it might be fun to ask guys doing post-conversion work whether sex was a nice change of pace from the usual violence. That it was all shot this way, on the other hand, indicates that every action in this movie is done with purpose, which means that even when it's dragging a bit or shoving more in the audience's face than it might want, it's at least put together in an intriguing way.

It tells the story of Murphy (Karl Glusman), an American in Paris who came as a film student and is now raising a child with a lovely girl by name of Omi (Klara Kristin). Unfortunately, the true love of his life is probably Electra (Aomi Muyock), but she has been out of his life for some time - out of everyone's in fact, as her mother Nora has not heard from her in two months and is thus desperate enough to see if Murphy has been in contact with her.

There's not a whole lot of time spent on finding out what happened to Electra, or indeed in the film's present at all. Her disappearance mostly serves as a reason for Murphy to think back on the entire length of his tempestuous, intertwined relationships with her and Omi, and those familiar with NoƩ's work might find that framing work unnecessary, as his stepping back a bit further each time bears a certain amount of resemblance to Irreversible (he originally planned to make this film in the early 2000s with the cast he would use for Irreversible, but when they backed down from the unsimulated sex they changed plans and NoƩ filed Love away for later). It's a superficial similarity; both films move toward a happy beginning from a dark ending, but Love does so along a natural, well-marked path rather than the shocking context-shifting tragedy of its predecessor, and it's not nearly so straight a line back. NoƩ's goal here is less to surprise than examine, maybe unearthing how early the seeds for disaster were planted.

It is, in fact, fairly early, which is not surprising given that NoƩ has Karl Glusman hit the audience hard with a full-fledged bitterness that takes time to build up. His voice-over is only used in present-day scenes, hateful and angry but easy to link to the way present-day Murphy seems numb and detached. He quickly expends most of the sympathy allocated to the narrator by default, but it is still fascinating to watch the younger Murphy; Glusman does well to capture how this American can seem both innocent and provincial in Paris, and while it often seems like he's not quite actor enough to make the line between them blurry as opposed to sharp, that may just be what NoƩ wants; he's not exactly known for subtlety.

Glusman was the only member of the core cast to be a professional actor before filming started, although both Aomi Muyock and Klara Kristin prove to be fine on-screen partners. Kristin, in particular, is especially strong; with Omi being the woman who winds up in Murphy's life "now", she'll kind of disappear as the flashbacks move before her introduction and the present-day scenes reflect that, but she nevertheless leaves a strong impression of a bright young woman who becomes a responsible parent, if one frustrated with Murphy's crap. Muyock gets much more time as Electra, and seems a bit more exposed in terms of skill; during the mostly-improvised segments when Electra and Murphy are getting to know each other, it is easy to see the easy, unaffected charm that likely won her the role, and she's able to emote strongly enough when necessary, but it doesn't quite add up to a particularly unique character. Electra is easy enough to like, but NoƩ seems to give Electra more erotic impulses when Muyock could probably use more direction for what else makes her tick as a person.

She and Glusman get a lot of the sex scenes (compared to Kristin), and while NoƩ's intent of taking the relationship through its lovemaking is interesting, the execution is sometimes frustrating. Not only do the scenes themselves go on too long - once you've been a bit surprised by actually seeing it onscreen in the same theater where you saw The Martian a couple weeks earlier, two people stroking each other's genitals is not actually riveting cinema - but the fractured timeline makes the progression less easily tracked from exploration to passion to desperate experimentation. NoƩ seems to feel it too; aside from a darkly funny and telling threesome involving an unusual third partner, he eventually turns to weird 3D climaxes or cutting away to show that sex with Electra is the foremost of his memories.

Love was shot in native 3D, and seeing it in that format is recommended, and not just for when NoƩ is naughtily messing around. Using this format leads to him being extremely precise in how he takes and lights certain shots, with one of his more common tricks - flickering to black as he jumps back and forth in time using the same shot and staging at the same location - being all the more effective for the solidity of the people and objects that are common or different between scenes. He and cinematographer BenoƮt Debie also use something for which 3D is often maligned, forcing one's eyes to focus on a specific plane despite the apparently three-dimensional space, to interesting effect, causing people walking into the background to almost disintegrate as they move away from Murphy.

It's carefully constructed and, if nothing else, an intriguing demonstration of what talented filmmakers can do with 3D, even if it's a bit shakier on some of its other ideas. You don't see a movie like this very often, and while that's not always reason enough to see something on its own, NoƩ makes something that would be quite compelling even if it wasn't also surprising.

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originally posted: 11/10/15 15:23:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Cannes Film Festival For more in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/10/15 paul carter was a great film. 4 stars
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  30-Oct-2015 (NR)
  DVD: 15-Mar-2016

  N/A (18)

  30-Oct-2015 (R)

Directed by
  Gaspar Noé

Written by
  Gaspar Noé

  Karl Glusman
  Aomi Muyock
  Klara Kristin
  Juan Saavedra
  Vincent Maraval
  Isabelle Nicou

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