Overview: A young couple deal with their affections, mistakes, and damage through sexual encounters. Alchemy; 2015; Not Rated; 135 Minutes.

Lust and Love: Given the word-of-mouth marketing and explicitly erotic poster campaign for Gaspar Noé’s newest film, one might go into Love assuming that its title is the first part of a cinematic experience built only of ornery provocation. Certainly Noé’s divisive filmography lends to that expectation; Enter the Void, Irreversible, and I Stand Alone are all constructed of a functional ugliness, investigating the low rung of humanity that some might interpret as the opposite of love. And yet, the title is earned, with Love at least attempting to be the most sweetly sincere of Noé’s career. While it never approaches the concentrated sincerity in the heartbreaking bedroom sequence shared between Monica Belluci and Vincent Cassell in Irreversible, the sexually charged story of Murphy (Karl Glusman) and Elektra (Aomi Muyock) is well-intentioned, honest, and, at times, surprisingly engaging on a level of basic empathy. 

Futility of Provocation: Of course, as expected, Noé’s pension for being a provocateur is quite prominent, and is most apparent in the unavoidable, straight-on ejaculation shot meant to make the most of the 3-D form, and in a later scene with Murphy’s encounter with a transsexual prostitute.  But, as I discussed briefly in my review of last year’s equally indulgent Nymphomaniac, shaping provocation through sexual imagery in the modern age is almost like trying to inflate a punctured balloon. Right now, a reader could add an extra tab on his or her browser, type a crude term into a search bar, hit enter, and be exposed to endless imagery every bit as jarring and or stimulating as the material in Love. This accessibility of eroticism cheapens erotic provocation until the latter, more artistically-minded application of sex feels less edgy and less valuable than the former.

Shallowness and Form:  Often Glusman’s raspy, incomprehensible voice-over whispers dilute the intensity of the onscreen action, and broad philosophical pondering between the characters seem purposefully applied to ensure that the film will be critically reduced to the cheap designation of a “vanity project.” This air of pretension feels almost intentionally applied; not an act of self-sabotage as much as a testament to the vanity inherent in loving another so blindly and deeply as to expect their lifelong commitment and un-waning passion. And even with this indigestible shallowness and the flaws in its provocation, Love is a movie that should be watched, if nothing else for the assurance and innovation in its form. Cinematographer Benoît Debie captures the party and sex scenes with pulsing, low light, moving the camera in sleek, casual observation, and the final product is edited in blinking, hard cuts that highlight the rhythms of the character interactions. Noé’s music team of Lawrence Schulz and John Carpenter score the movie with an eclectic mix of musical compositions that feel as naturalistic as the scenes of unchoreographed intercourse.

Overall: With Love, Gaspar Noé has contributed another film that displays his indefinable artistic ambition. It is a movie that is not always entertaining or pleasant, or even comfortable, but one that is hard not to recommend.

Grade: C+