We sat down at Cannes with the controversial Argentine-French filmmaker to discuss his provocative new movie, which has censors and critics in a tizzy.
The notoriously wicked and contentious cinema of Argentine-born French auteur Gaspar Noé subverts norms in inimitably edgy ways. His 1998 debut, I Stand Alone, confronted us with a racist, misanthropic, even sociopathic butcher as its protagonist. In 2002, Irréversible brutalized us with unflinching sexual violence, and 2009's Enter the Void tripped us out on hallucinogenic sensations. His latest feature, Love, nearly caused brawling at this year's Cannes Film Festival, as hundreds of filmgoers pushed to get into the after-midnight premiere. But what the crowds ultimately witnessed by 3 AM was a sentimental melodrama about romantic intimacy. At 51, has the enfant terrible gone soft on us?
That's a joke, as the hypersexual Love is ripe with unsimulated hardcore fucking. In his director's statement, Noé claims he has dreamt for years to reproduce a young couple's passion on the screen, with multiple sex scenes "transcending the ridiculous division that dictates no normal film can contain overtly erotic scenes, even though everyone loves to make love." Oh, and the money shot? Re-teaming with the brilliantly talented cinematographer Benoît Debie ( Irréversible, Enter the Void ), Love is vividly filmed in Cinemascope... and in 3D.
Love stars studly young Karl Glusman as Murphy, a self-involved American expat and wannabe filmmaker in Paris, whom we first see in an extended, rather tender act of mutual masturbation with aspiring artist Electra (Aomi Muyock). In sexually charged flashbacks, Murphy recounts his chaotic relationships with her and the equally hot Omi (Klara Kristin), finding a woeful weightiness in every remembered blowjob, ménage à trois, and sticky spasm.
The night after the premiere, French international-sales titans Wild Bunch threw an old-school rave for Love, a 15-minute drive away from Cannes. Uninvited, I snuck past the door sentry and found myself inside a gymnasium-size space, where trans ladies took selfies while making out, and the DJs beats were so throbbingly low, deep, and bassy that I felt trapped inside one of Noé's movies. The next afternoon, I sat down with the man himself to discuss Love, though he clearly seemed more hungover than I was.
VICE: Other than one projectile cum shot aimed at the audience, Love is remarkably less sensory-overloaded than Enter the Void. Why did you want to shoot a melancholic romance in 3D?
Gaspar Noé : Maybe because I've been taking photos for a few years with this 3D camera, with negative film stock. Lately, I also got this other Fuji camera to make 3D digital photos. There's something playful, funny, and childish about those images that I really like. When my mother was dying, I had this weird need to film her with this 3D camera, and found that if this camera is handheld, it becomes nauseating. To avoid people getting nauseous, I decided everything should be still images, or very stable Steadicam shots.
I also noticed when I was filming my mother, during her agony, that when you watch those images inside a 3D screen, it looks much closer to life than a 2D image. It's kind of shocking because the size is not exactly the real size. The face can be huge on a big screen, so that the person becomes like a Rocky Mountain. There is this feeling of reality that is higher than with 2D images, and also a feeling of intimacy. So for a movie that is leading with passion, with sex, maybe the faces will be more touching, more emotional. But it's a big mess to shoot in 3D. The cameras are very heavy. There are a lot of problems linked to the size of the cameras.
The major problem I have with 3D is those silly glasses, which significantly darken the image. Since Love has such vibrant colors, was that something you thought about while shooting?
Yeah, you have to. Actually, the colors are far more vivid if you watch it on a TV screen, like a Sony TV screen with Blu-ray. We had to enhance the color grading to make it more colorful, so after you put your glasses on, you still have vivid colors and brightness. The color grading is a big mess when it comes to 3D.
Pornos are obviously about the fucking, but when you're directing a drama with explicit sex, performance is also important. What was your casting process like, and what qualities were you looking for in your actors?
I thought, at one point, maybe I could hire young actors from the porn industry. I met one girl who I really liked, and there was another I was considering. But these girls were shaven, and I didn't want the main female characters to be shaven, because that reminds you of porn videos. If the girl had the triangle of pubic hair, it would look more natural. Some people are doing it, some people are not, but I thought it would be better to find real people, even non-actors, to play in the movie.
Even if people say, "Yeah, I'll do it," you can guess who says it just to get the part, and the people who really want to commit. The whole casting was decided one week before we started shooting. But I'm really happy that Karl and Aomi and Klara did the movie, and that the alchemy worked so well between them.
So many of the characters have familiar names. One is named Noé, Gaspar is a child soon to be born, and there's a reference to an ex named Lucile.
My mother's name, before she died, was Nora Murphy. So there's a character called Nora, [one called] Murphy. When I was a kid, I thought "Noé" as a family name was too short, so I always said, "Gaspar Noé Murphy." And Paola is the name of my sister. I picked names of people I'm close to.
Is there anything autobiographical in this story beyond these names?
I would say it's a mix of my life, and the lives of close friends. For example, I've never been with a tranny, but I have close friends who enjoy doing it.
Speaking of which, some critics called the film "heteronormative," perhaps because there are casually homophobic slurs and the potentially queerest scene ends with Murphy freaking out about having sex with a trans woman. Was there a reason to keep a straight perspective?
You don't know exactly what happens [in that scene]. Maybe he got a blowjob in the van, and there was something else going on. I'm heterosexual. At least the movie portrays a character that... It's not that I feel close to him, but I understand him. The character in the movie could say, "I'm proud to be straight."
What lessons did you learn while shooting all this naked, writhing flesh?
What I learned is that alcohol helps people to get nude. [Laughs] It taught us all a lot about energy on the set. Some sex is real, some sex is simulated in the movie. It's a mix. But, in any case, you have to follow the people you are filming, especially if they say, "I don't want to do this." You should never force them to do anything that is against their joy, or their will, because the scene's going to be awkward. You can try to convince people that it's going to be good for the movie, but also you ask them, "What would you do if you were the director?" Most of the time, they come up with the right ideas.
The film's soundtrack is terrific—this retro grab-bag of Bach, Erik Satie, Goblin, even John Carpenter. Was the connection just music you loved?
One of my favorite pieces, "Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic, I could not consider removing from the movie. Yeah, I didn't have any music in mind before I started editing. On my computer I have iTunes, of course, and there is all this music that has five stars. You know, you do your own selection of your favorites. I tried to put those in first, but sometimes it was impossible to get the rights. For example, if you tried to put in the Beatles, you would never get it.
There's been a sea change within the porn industry as far as the use of condoms, and it's cool that you've made them integral to this story.
They use condoms to avoid getting pregnant, not to protect themselves from any disease. And the condoms break, like in real life. It's not about safe sex, it's that he doesn't want to get the neighbor pregnant.
This feels like the right movie to ask this, but is there anything unusual that turns you on? Or something that surprised you by making you horny?
I saw a weird [Sia] music video with Shia LaBoeuf playing, like, Homo erectus inside a cage. There's a young girl, about 14 years old, dancing in front of him. Did you see that one?
[Laughs] I didn't, but I will. There's a clever editing technique in Love, in which cuts mimic the blinking of an eye. Compared to the gunshot sounds punctuating the shock cuts of I Stand Alone, and considering this new film is more delicate and romantic than your other work, is this the start of a softer Gaspar Noé cinema?
It all depends on the subject. This movie was not meant to be violent. The only violence that you see in the movie is when the loving couple gets drunk, or gets angry, and they start insulting each other in the meanest way possible.
Well, I'm still curious to see how this will be released in the US, and whether there will be any pressure to trim scenes.
I don't cut movies. I don't like scissors.
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