2015

NSFW Video: Justine A. Smith Interviews Gaspar Noé About ‘Love’

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Love is a movie that tests relationships. Gaspar Noé’s film isn’t focused on satisfying audience conceptions about love or affection, it’s like picking at a wound until it scars over. Noé doesn’t make it easy to like his films. Rigorous, angry and formally acrobatic, he is both incredibly indulgent and incredibly forgiving as a philosopher in contemporary cinema. Noé’s movies, more often than not, are told from the perspective of difficult and angry young men, who are troubled by their lack of control over the world around them. Sitting down with Noé at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Montreal, he was soft-spoken, articulate and curious.

Warning: Video Contains Nudity (Produced and Edited by Francisco Peres)

In making Love, Noé missioned himself to make a sentimental sex film, filling a void that exists in cinema. Grasping at my own knowledge of sex and the screen, Noé is right in suggesting that frank sexuality is rarely matched with love. Movies that come close often fall short in either representation or emotion — love itself is most often portrayed in bursts of new experiences rather than something settled or conflicted. The examples that come close are imperfect — films like Carnal Knowledge, or the works of Catherine Breillat, carry some of the mantles but never aspire to tell the story that Noé has in mind. In speaking to the director, it became clear that love and sex are treated with even more discomfort than trashy or vulgar intercourse, as love inspired sex (maybe the best thing in the world) has never been considered a suitable topic for the screen.

Love is about a relationship remembered and deeply secured in our lead’s subjectivity. Murphy (Karl Glusman) is an angry young man who feels tied down to a life he never really wanted. His interior monologue connects us to his silent and solitary experience and forces us to feel his isolation, even in the company of others. Murphy’s short fuse (and general apprehension for all that is good or right) is challenging but understandable. Noé, who has long mastered the art of subjective cinema, draws us into his world view.

As a woman, Love is a bizarre experience, a film wrought with doubt and insecurity. It’s not necessarily that Murphy resembles men I’ve been with, but it’s hard to escape those feelings that what’s running through the character’s head is what was running through the heads of others I’ve known. This is not only in Murphy’s indictment of Omi, but his misunderstanding of Electra, as he weighs her down with his possessiveness. Murphy’s vision of her idealizes and condemns, based on imagined virtues and indiscretions. Noé’s movies are aggressively male in their vision, which is partially why I like them so much. He fits well in the company of filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah, who yearned to covet and understand women but fell short due to personal failures and lack of experience (rather than straightforward misogyny).

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Love aches with temptation, a word we use to convey forbidden desires. This temptation is perhaps one of the big themes of Noé’s films, as his characters seem free to act however they want, yet they are weighed down by expectations. They are weighed down by their fear of hurting someone else. Personally, Love shed a new light on Noé’s career and opened me up to the possibility that his work has always been about love and desire. The movie is undoubtedly sexy, but it’s not nearly as transgressive as it makes itself out to be. I don’t see this as a problem, but a symptom of a society that judges sexuality along a different metric, one that is not suited for art.

Sitting down with Gaspar Noé, I wanted to parse through his influences while also getting to the heart of what he is trying to say about romantic love. The video is produced and edited by my own partner in life, Chico Peres, who through associations and dissonance brought new meaning to Gaspar’s words and images. Noé’s films work best in the context of a greater film history. To watch 2001: A Space Odyssey, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom and Taxi Driver shed new light on his vision. While incredibly personal, Noé’s films are also in conversation with what came before, almost caught in the past promise of what cinema could have been.

Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she has written for Vice Canada, Cleo: A Feminist Journal and Little White Lies Magazine.

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