It promises all sorts of muck, and muck it delivers. ‘Love’ is a 3D sex film from Gaspar Noé, the French provocateur behind ‘Irreversible’ (violence, rape) and ‘Enter the Void’ (drugs, prostitution). It’s filthy and has many of the foibles of porn – bad dialogue, can-I-borrow-some-sugar plotting – but Noé holds back from showing hardcore penetration, although it’s hard to imagine his cast aren’t actually having full-on sex here. In the end, ‘Love’ is more silly than sordid, and even a little soppy in its late – too late – love-filled moments. Many teens will love it; most adults will roll their eyes.
It opens with Murphy (Karl Glusman, suicidally game), an American sort-of-film-student in Paris getting a handjob from his girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock, not the world’s greatest actress). But it then emerges that these two have split, and Murphy, fatter and with a moustache, is now unhappily living with ex neighbour Omi (Klara Kristin) and their toddler. The demise of Murphy and Electra’s relationship, via orgies, drugs, betrayal and lots and lots and lots of sex, is then revealed backwards as in Noé’s ‘Irreversible’. But time hops about much more here, so that what we get is more like a Paris-set, much raunchier and aggressive ‘Blue Valentine’ with murky visuals, frank sex and, of course, a centrepiece money shot that makes the very most of 3D (think about it).
You can’t totally dismiss Noé as an empty showman. He knows how to create and run with a base, nocturnal, queasily descending atmosphere like few filmmakers, and he’s alive to our self-destructive ability to screw up our own destinies. And there are some strong non-sex moments, too, especially two long, back-to-back scenes of Murphy and Electra walking and talking, once at the start of their romance and once towards the end.
But Noé fatally undermines any serious purpose with tongue-in-cheek scenes featuring himself (in a wig) as Electra’s older ex-boyfriend. Also, the film’s flagrantly autobiographical elements (Murphy, like Noé, says he want to make films full of sex, violence and spunk) are distracting and self-regarding. There’s a semi-decent, bold film buried somewhere here, but it’s nearly sunk by its need to shock and tease at almost every turn.