- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2015


Let’s get this out of the way upfront: The sex scenes in “Love” are unsimulated. As if to underscore the rawness of what the film asks us to behold, writer/director Gaspar Noe fades up in minute one on Murphy (Karl Glusman) and his French girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock) mid-mutual masturbation set to orchestral tones that all but scream: “Look how raw we dare to be!” The scene, without ambient human sounds of pleasure, ends with the mess of Murphy’s ejaculate before fading back out to black.

Relax, you only have two hours and 13 minutes to go.

It is nearly impossible to discuss a film that features real sexual activity between the actors and its relative artistic merits in the same breath because it is precisely that dimension that is meant to be its singular draw. This fact in and of itself is the Achilles’ heel of real intercourse’s use in mainstream filmmaking, and it begs an important question: Can “Love” — or any film — be enjoyed on its own value if the real sex were perhaps substituted with its less-risque R-rated approximations?

In the case of “Love,” I found the answer to be a resounding negative.

While this bears further discussion, it is my job as reviewer to impart the story, such as it is, to better inform you as to make your own decision as to if you wish to spend two-plus hours with the fictional characters locking their actual loins. And a film titled “Love,” the single greatest of all ephemeral of English nouns, has set its sights high already even without the manual dexterities of the opening scene.

So, here goes:

Murphy is an aspiring American filmmaker living in France with the aforementioned Electra. Prone to the kinds of pontification not seen since James Van Der Beek on “Dawson’s Creek,” Murphy is almost certainly meant to be the avatar for Mr. Noe himself. And this being ego-stroking cinema, it is not long before Murphy and Electra become embroiled in an impromptu threesome with the convenient neighbor Omi (Klara Kristin).

This is the kind of thing that typically happens only in porn, a business that traffics in male wish fulfillment for the prurient but still necessary sake of self-gratification. However, credit must be given to Mr. Noe for bringing it back down to earth when Murphy, in a moment of weakness, sneaks off one afternoon for a one-on-one with Omi. A broken condom ensues and a pregnancy results, which is rather unhelpful to his relationship with Electra.

Murphy then spends entire sections of the narrative waxing in overly underlining voiceover as to the misery his life has become thanks to his own poor choices. Why films continue to wish me to sympathize with whiners I find disconcertingly unanswerable.

Note to Mr. Noe: This entire story could have been fit neatly into a 30-minute dirge and still kept the real boinking in place. But for reasons that must surely have made sense to the Argentinean auteur at the time, scene after scene after scene of increasingly uncomfortable bumping of the uglies between Murphy and Electra are there to be endured as the couple descends into drug use, swinging and scripted screaming matches so that, clocking in past hour two, the mouth yawns in that most awful of contemporary human experiences: being bored by on-screen sex.

And so, yes, we must in fact retread to the elephant in the room and his erect trunk and orgasmic blaring. Unsimulated sex between actors in “mainstream” filmmaking has been tried before, but typically to the same self-serving result rather than as a plot motivator — an end unto itself. In my view, it has only ever been done successfully so once — meaning that the story, acting, characters and plot were sufficient to stand on their own if removed — in Michael Winterbottom’s quirky experiment “9 Songs” from 2004, in which another American and European (with genders reversed from “Love”) meet, hook up, enjoy the nightlife punctuated by some of England’s biggest bands, part ways.

All of it done, by the grace of Mr. Winterbottom, in a tight 71 minutes. There was a logic to the relationship, such as it was, between the two leads in “9 Songs,” and the fact that the actors were really doing what other actors only appeared to do in other films added a dimension of urgency to their story arc. When Lisa (Margo Stilley) breaks down during one of their final sexual encounters, it is a portend of their short-lived affair’s necessary end, and entirely believable.

It was, in short, substance dictating style.

Mr. Noe, on the other hand (who is not nearly the filmmaker Mr. Winterbottom is), I suspect, decreed first and foremost that the intercourse would be real and worked backwards from there to attempt to craft a tale to suit his designs. At least porno films don’t make any true claims to artistry, only that a “story” will be used upon which to hang the boning.

To this point, I must add that my own history as a writer entailed four years as an editor at Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine, where I both edited the copy and contributed articles, a perch from which I was able to see the business of pleasure up close and a little too personally. The reason explicit sex and mainstream cinema have never made comfortable bedfellows is precisely that sex and its simulated appeal is used to sell tickets whereas unsimulated sex is typically a vehicle to sell as an outlet in and of itself. It is why Tucker Max once told me, in an interview, that porn stars are not real people, but rather objects.

I have told you all you need to know to determine if “Love” is worthy of your time. Time was when those of my generation had to fast-forward through old VHS tapes to get to the good parts, but here you can now pay full price to see the real deal on a big screen and not feel like a perv (oh, how I miss those glory days of the outing with pals to see the NC-17-rated “Showgirls” a week after my 17th birthday). Or you can stay home, skip the overly self-important tale Mr. Noe attempts to spin and sidle up to the Internet, if such be your fancy, to watch the “pornies,” as my dad used to call them (and I mean the stuff that actually bills itself as such).

Oh, but wait, there is reason after all to go to the theater for “Love,” dear reader! For but a few dollars more you can watch Murphy’s semen burst forth in extreme close-up in 3-D about an hour and 45 minutes in, as many theaters are showing it in such a format this weekend. If ducking in a movie theater to avoid incoming man-seed is not the single greatest advertisement for the next frontier in what those red- and green-tinted glasses can do, then we truly still are in the dark ages.

I await Mr. Noe’s attempt to justify the extra dimension viewing experience as such.

“Love” opens Friday at the District’s Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market in regular 2-D and in salacious 3-D at Angelika Film Center & Cafe at Mosaic.

RATED NR: Contains wall-to-wall bumping of the nasties and even filthier language, drug use and ear-cringing pontificating

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