‘Love’ explores thin lines between love and addiction, sex and art

     Karl Glusman, director Gaspar Noe, Klara Kristin and Aomi Muyock, pose for photographers during a photo call for the film 'Love,' at the 68th international Cannes Film Festival. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

    Karl Glusman, director Gaspar Noe, Klara Kristin and Aomi Muyock, pose for photographers during a photo call for the film 'Love,' at the 68th international Cannes Film Festival. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

    The Philadelphia Film Festival concluded last week with Gaspar Noé’s film “Love,” an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival. “Love” presents romantic love as pathological mental illness, obsession and addiction.

    The Philadelphia Film Festival concluded last week with Gaspar Noé’s film “Love,” an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival. Filmed in 3D and shot in Paris, “Love” opens with American filmmaker Murphy (Karl Glusman) and French artist Electra (Aomi Muyock) nude in bed masturbating each other for five minutes to visual climax. This tells the audience right away that the movie will be intentionally sexually explicit and provocative.

    The next scene is several years later. Murphy wakes up in bed next to Omi, (Klara Krispin), his domestic partner (it isn’t clear they are married), and his baby son wailing. Electra’s mother, who despises Murphy, has left a message on his phone asking if he has seen her. Electra has disappeared and may be dead. Murphy tries to hide the call from Omi. He feels imprisoned by her and the baby.

    Murphy, Electra and Omi’s graphic sexual relationship is told through contiguous flashbacks. Murphy and Electra, obsessed and in love, are openly polyamorous yet also secretly cheating and jealous.

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    One plus one plus one

    “Love” presents romantic love as pathological mental illness, obsession and addiction.

    All of the heterosexual couples I have known who have explored polyamory have broken up or divorced. I am certain that there are polyamorous couples who have been together for decades and they will probably make it known that they are happy. Some people say it’s all right for the people they love to have sex with others, and they are happy for their partners — but many people aren’t very logical with their emotions. It is one thing to allow your lover to have sex with others. It is another thing to see it.

    I have seen artist couples like Murphy and Electra who drink and yell and scream when they could much more easily walk away from each other. Maybe not so easily.

    Murphy is neither intelligent nor self-aware. He is obsessed with Electra, his true love, yet will think nothing of having sex with another woman. Murphy and Electra want to share multiple partners but cannot live with the results. They have a three-way with Omi, and Murphy becomes obsessed with her when she doesn’t pay him sufficient attention.

    Omi becomes pregnant. When Murphy tells Electra about it, she hates him. Murphy and Omi have a family because a condom broke. The sexual obsession that began their relationship becomes very old very fast.

    Murphy cheats on Electra at a party, and his lies angers her more. After Murphy drunkenly assaults Electra’s former boyfriend, a French police officer tells him he needs to give up his American possessiveness. Murphy and Electra go to a sex club, and they both become even more jealous.

    Not so exotic

    The difference between this movie and pornography is in the presentation of sex. Porn is a train on a schedule to a destination. However, the sex in “Love” meanders and has different purposes and moods: gentle sex when Murphy and Electra meet, are falling in love and on their best behavior; increasingly rough and careless sex as their relationship disintegrates into anger, jealousy and obsession. The sex takes place in public and in sex clubs. They are addicted to drugs, but their addiction to each other is even more toxic.

    “Love” is intentionally provocative and shocking. The fact is many people — not just in France, but right here in Philadelphia — live like this. People act like this.

    It seems shocking in a movie, but consider real life. Everyday people film themselves having sex. They take nude selfles and post them to the Internet. Celebrities accidentally release sex tapes. Porn is available at the click of a mouse or the tap of a smart phone. Billions of people indulge billions of times a day. Sex is so common, maybe the real pretense is in not presenting it in movies unless it’s pornography. Still, a close-up of Gluzman’s ejaculation exploding at the audience in 3D, while intended to be artistic, is also gratuitous. Godzilla comes to mind.

    Murphy is studying film. Electra is an artist. Yet we never see him making a film. We never see her creating art. For the first third of the movie, I thought he had no job. Many people who claim to be artists never actually produce anything. That’s not limited to artists. Some financial planners and political operatives never produce anything either.

    There is art to “Love,” beautifully filmed by Benoit Debie. The sex scenes are composed as though they are paintings. There are beautiful outdoor shots of Murphy and Electra walking down steps and through a cemetery. Electra is often wearing red or presented with a red background.

    I wonder if you can judge a movie by the number of people who walk out at a screening. I counted three in my row who walked out at different points during the crowded screening. The Prince Theater remained packed.

    Guzman is throwing as much sex as he can up on the screen. It will probably guarantee him many video-on-demand downloads when the film leaves theaters. There will probably be some interesting deleted scenes and outtakes on the DVD and Blu-ray.

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