You likely know by now whether a new Gaspar Noe film finds you fleeing from or toward its embrace. The director’s three previous features (I Stand Alone, Irreversible, Enter The Void) shout their twisted intentions across the screen from the outset, and immerse you in horror and anxiety like few others. His latest, the 3D drama Love, appeared to take the same route — imagination running wild as to his approach — but the end result is more a surprising, sensual film than an altogether provocative one.
Set during a hungover, gloomy day in Paris, Murphy (played by Karl Glusman) gains word that his ex-girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock) has gone missing. What follows is a drug-induced, melancholic trip through Murphy’s memories of the two tempestuous years spent with Electra, and the events that led him to a young Danish woman (Klara Kristin) now. Yes, the cheeky ideas of Noe, sex, and 3D are almost all indulged, but the director guides you through Murphy and Electra’s relationship using a number of clever and subtle techniques, and recently we chatted with Noe to find out more.
The Creators Project: For the first 10 minutes of Love, you hear the constant sound of falling rain. In comparison to Irreversible, where you layered in nauseating white noise, you can’t get much more dissimilar.
Gaspar Noe: Right — in Irreversible it was a low frequency, which I put in to make people upset. And I know that rain feels like opium a little bit, which Karl's character is taking in the beginning. If you add the opium and rain together, and also that he's been drinking, it's a good mix. It's like the days when you take MDMA, the next day you can't do anything but watch the ceiling and reconsider your past.
How did sound, such an important element in your films, factor into this one?
The sound in Love is not as complex a sound editing structure as Irreversible or Enter The Void. The movie is almost like a musical — you know, there's one scene of dancing or singing, and then one scene of people talking. In this case, you have the dialog scenes, where much of it is improvised, and then one scene that is almost silent, of people making love with music on top. You hear the first note of a new song, and you think, "We're getting to something non-verbal."
How did you approach the various names for characters in the film, including yours?
I wanted most of the characters to have names that are familiar to me. Julio is my second name. Murphy is my mother's name. Paula is the name of my sister. All these names were close to life. The main character is me, but it's a mix of me and my best friends is my 20s or 30s. He's not always bright, especially when he drinks, but I relate to him. With the case of Electra I did not want to put a name that would associate her to any person I knew, because when I wrote the script once or twice I put a name that I could relate to and I couldn’t keep writing. I could only think of that girl. That's when I realized that I had to put a blank name, one that meant absolutely nothing. She’s a mix of different people, in the abstract.
You use one title card outside of credits in the film, explaining “Murphy’s Law”. Is it right that you originally planned for more?
There were title cards in the first draft or treatment that I had, but they were all definitions of love. Like, "Love is a mental disease" from Plato, or "Love is the most natural painkiller" from William Burroughs. I tried it and it seemed a bit, almost predictable. And also you kill a bit of the sentimentality of the movie. At the end we just left one title card in.
If you play with written words on-screen, you have to do it in a very playful way. If it's just to make it look like a book, a chapter, it makes the whole movie seem literal. I like the playfulness of Godard in his early movies more than later, also because he was playing with typography more — A Woman is a Woman, Vivre Sa Vie, those early ones. When I started preparing this movie I watched all of his to see what was great in those movies that hadn't been done since.
You stated before you wanted Love to be “a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality.” Is there a certain scene or portion that you felt completely captured that?
Last time I watched the entire movie I really liked the threesome scene, I think it's the perfect length. It’s sexual, it's more about freedom, and it's shown in a way that is not normally seen for commercial or distribution reasons. Since the 70s when it came to love in cinema it can't be love but sex, and it has to be shown in that film genre called erotic cinema. In life you never make the separation — between the moment you're talking with your girlfriend, when you're taking a shower, and then in bed, making love. It's as normal as drinking a beer or watching TV.
In this film, it's not about a carnal love, it's about its essence. Most recently Blue Is The Warmest Color showed that — passion for what it is, and the carnal connection that can turn very addictive. What I didn't like in that film was that the promotion made it clear that the sex was simulated. I thought, "The sex seems so real, why did they need to say or not?" That's why with this movie we decided to not say what did happen or what didn't. Because if it looks good onscreen, it's good. It's a turnoff for the audience to know. In life, it's all simple.
What do you think is behind that separation between love and sex in film?
Movies are all about lying to the audience. For example, the actors are the not the characters in the movie, but still they imitate their lives. Why wouldn't you imitate what you consider to be the sweetest and most enjoyable things in life? The problem is not showing real or simulated sex onscreen. The problem in Western culture — in Europe too — is that the culture is afraid of the male penis. Either you're a woman or you're gay and you enjoy the representation of the male penis, but when it comes to a heterosexual man, they all seem to be scared by their neighbor's penis. Maybe because they're scared their girlfriend will become aroused? Or your daughter, or mother? Why don't you ever, ever see it, besides in Bad Lieutenant? And Harvey Keitel wasn't even erect in that scene. It's very strange.
Love is now playing in 3D in New York and Los Angeles. The film opens nationwide on November 6th.