Love (2015) - The Noé Effect
By: Ali Farahmand
The first shot of the film Love features Erik Satie’s music accompanying a naked man and woman in erotic rapture unexpectedly emerging on the screen in a close frame with achromatic tonalities. From the very first shot these four elements are formed – a progressive situation; defamiliarization with declarations of sexual relationships and gender issues; general tone and space; and objectivity. While it is common to place Love in the pornography genre due to its frequent graphic sex scenes, this approach does not accurately describe the film’s intent.
The tonality of Love is not the same as the typical tonalities of the pornography genre since the bodies of the characters are surrounded by a halation of black and gray colour along with the main colour of the frame, dark brown which evokes apathy and a sense of pleasureless-ness. Low-angle lighting, which is usually used to distort the face, such as to depict existential horror in the classics, is used here to show the male pudendum. This clarifies Love’s position toward pornography while also being an avant-garde way of introducing the villain and active factor of the story, which is not a cunning person but rather the penis.
The close framing in the first shot introduces the enclosure of the relationship between the two characters, Electra and Murphy. The third track of Gnossienne by Erik Satie was considered to be a disarrangement of typical musical indications when it was first published in 1888 but it also induces horror and stress. All of these audio-visual factors have been applied to prevent the spectator’s enjoyment of the subject and elucidates the filmmaker’s approach to human-human relations, or the quest of love, and the two-sided relationship between the cinema and the human, which is expanded upon below.
In Love the filmmaker defamiliarizes typical symbols by showing a familiar subject and thaumaturgic setting and but then putting the spectator into an unfamiliar estrangement because of newer meanings. For example, the first scene works towards the defamiliarization with pornography by continuing until the characters reach orgasm and spectators calm down mentally, which stops them from being involved in erotic scenes. After watching this, spectators would be unbound from seduction and, apart from sexual issues, focus on what is happening within the movie – love. Omitting the voice of the love affair dilutes the impression of sexual excitement for spectators and unveils the love path.
Another point is that Love’s scenes, especially the first one, use a unique design to position the characters between their current reality and the fluidity of fancy. Apart from scenery and decoration, this can be seen in the movements of the characters, which happen at a slower pace than is conventionally shown and evokes the fluidity of floating astronauts in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is frequently referenced in Love. In fact, Love’s characters seem to not even stand on the ground or show any dependency on reality. A wide lens has been used for that reason, which is the very approach that draws attention to the contemporary reality. The characters in Love are trapped in a self-made dungeon and abandoned within the void of love, which is why interior shots often depict them as being inside of a restricted area of the scene’s architecture. For example, when Murphy stands in a doorframe it implies this restriction and there is also a sense of captivation in close shots. This is the film’s approach to defamiliarizing the phenomenon of love. Is love a sensible affair or has it lost its essence and been superseded by sadomasochistic acts and sexual fetishism? It could remind one of the final dialogue of Eyes Wide Shut, which implies that the relationship between a man and a woman might have become possible only through a general mode of sexual connection – “fucking” rather than “making love.”
Love is not a serious film and the fluidity of its tone, which makes fun of environmental phenomena, elevates the film beyond just being a postmodern movie. Love is a postmodern mockery that dreadfully satirizes love behind its apparent anger toward the passion of a lover, which can be comprehended through the story, supportive events, and images. The witty story of Love proceeds through the passivity of a man and the activity of a penis - a boy reclaiming his love, a penis which commits infidelity, and the rising action of a broken condom! People are nobody in Love and the penis makes the decisions. It is a character in the film, which is more about the penis rather than the person.
The style of camerawork in Love fits this radical idea and introduces the penis as an active antagonist, a villain who makes characters tired. In Love, genitals – especially the penis, which represents human instincts – are mean characters who complicate the situations of their owners. The film draws the penis a “bad man” without any exaggeration. For example, there is a shot that depicts sex from within a vagina, which shows the dreadful figure of a penis suddenly entering the vagina and ejaculating in front of the camera, on the spectator’s face. These extreme dirty images disrupt our mentality of what love is and also setting up the penis as a factor of subversion, a vicious villain who is always one step ahead of the story’s other characters.
Noé’s work is a reaction against the attitudes and fully instinctive connections of the contemporary human and it depicts a human’s passivity toward his instincts through a fit of graceful anger. It even takes a step forward, intending for spectators to identify with the story through a superficial melodrama, and conceivably reaches this goal. The film simultaneously talks about horrendous human issues and uses the cheap taste of audiences to force them into identifying with a passive lover and feeling antipathy towards a penis.
This is obviously the basic reason for the frequent repetition of romantic scenes, just like in Irreversible. The atmosphere of the film is quite serious in telling its silly story however its inner satire can be felt in the end. That is the point at which the question comes to our mind, without the comprehended concept of who has identified with Electra and Murphy. In other words, the film presents a spectacle of poisoned foods and beverages for the audience and then at the end asks them “What have they done to themselves?”
Audiences often appreciate films that try to link with the reality of society through a pessimistic approach, which is the quality of Noé’s work. He not only plays with the concept of love but also fights with cinema and its spectators. Noé intends to use Love as a mirror for today’s love and finally reveals their similarities. The type of people who identify with such a simplified plot represent the fact that the mirror does not reflect such crooked pictures. At the same time, the medium of this impression could not be anything but cinema, even though the filmmaker also satirizes this phenomenon. Using 3D imagery only for displaying masturbation and ejaculation on people’s faces helps the embarrassment to be felt more tangibly.
At the end Electra and Murphy have another imaginary romantic scene which seems reminiscent of sentimental scenes and the happy end of classical romances. Noe uses the distancing effect to make space between his cinema and the “cinema of habit” by minimizing images and eventually ignoring the latter. The scene on the black screen turns into a prison-like image with lovers locked up in it. At the same time, the ending dialogue twists common cinematic indications and once again ridicules the concept of love as Murphy recalls the relationship and tells his lover “I will love you to the end” before the inscription “The End” is imprinted on the screen.
As a matter of fact, most typical love stories in cinema – especially romantic melodramas – finish with “The End” on the screen but Noé is challenging people to think right after the end. For example, love in our common period is expected to last and its value is in its duration but Noé is making fun of humans and their horrendous attitudes through the language of cinema. The tonality of the ending scene is the complete opposite of the beginning scene. It is a reaction against the beginning action of the film. The former was filled with apathy while the latter has a fully romantic mood with Electra saying “Please, don’t you ever leave me.” Then comes Murphy’s absurd response, which also seems to be the audience’s answer, that “I promise I’ll love you to the end.” Indeed, it is the cinema and not the plot which gives the answer to Murphy’s romantic action – as well as the audience’s identification and desire – as it puts an end to everything and revives the people in the audience as the dark theatre begins to brighten.
Nevertheless, the film repeatedly uses distancing effects in its editing, such as cutting away to keep the audience safe from developing sympathies with such superficial emotional bonds while, at the same time, the story gives way to identification. This paradoxical process is the same way in which the movie Love surveys the topic of love. Lovers shed tears when separated but, at the same time, and to reinforce this bond, they resort to sexual deviations. Love is a melancholic mockery of mourning for the annihilation of love in today’s era in which the merely subjective concerns of couples focus on the issues of sex, diversity, and uncontrollable instincts. No event during the film engages the audience except the description of banal instincts but they become very involved with the instincts during the film.
Love is similar to Noé’s other radical postmodern films which has no dominant tone but rather is a combination of horror, melodrama, comedy, romance, and mystery that eventually ends in a sort of tragedy with comedic elements and all sorts of frightening tones and grueling situations. No one event sets the course of the story and the characters don’t go through any growth curves since they are only reaching for multiple orgasms through aberrant diversions. In addition to Noé’s style of building up in his films using a multi-tone style, the audience is never sure when the movie is poking at it. For example, we see the filmmaker’s joke in the very last scene when the characters shed tears and exchange touches, looks, and kisses while Bach plays but there are no conclusive answers. If this implicit multi-tone style and suspense is the result of postmodern cinema then Noé has taken it forward and matured it.
Love is a satire and these parodies can only be obtained by analyzing the film since Noé always tries to solve the parody within the text and sometimes satirizes reality in such a cryptic way that it seems more like a manipulated reality without any interference from the real world itself. For example, there is a scene in Irreversible in which a woman and two men in the subway talk about their radical emotional relationships. Such a scene is intended to defamiliarize the concept of love but is also a joke for modern society. The main theme of the story, revenge, can also be considered as satire. The same is clearly seen in Love with the exhibition of Electra’s former lover, where the wall of the exhibition is filled with works by Nan Goldin; The artist that Some critics have accused her of making heroin use appear glamorous and of pioneering a grunge style that later became popularized by youth fashion magazines such as The Face and I-D. Goldin's interest in drugs stemmed from a sort of rebellion against parental guidance that parallels her decision to run away from home at a young age: "I wanted to get high from a really early age. I wanted to be a junkie. That's what intrigues me. Part was the Velvet Underground and the Beats and all that stuff. But, really, I wanted to be as different from my mother as I could and define myself as far as possible from the suburban life I was brought up in”.
However, it is clear that the world of Love is something like the unconventional worldview of Goldin and the exhibition hall in that scene is also enclosed with photos of LGBT trends in a close shot. It is indeed a kind of fusion of art, sex, and violence in the modern era and in a few previous scenes Murphy says that he is interested in the presence of gender and violence in his films, but here the satire is that the role of the head of the exhibition is played by Noé himself.
Noé believes in violent sex and depicts it in sharp red and black colours in order to convey such a feeling. The presence of the relationship, which is based parodies in Noé’s work, indicates the suspension of human relations that we eventually see with their disappearance and dying down in most of his works. But here comes another question: What is the role of art (such as the Noé gallery artworks) in human relationships today? The film cleverly responds through form arrangements and reduces human relationships to gender and violence. These instincts reciprocally make the art, and these works again lead to the awakening of the artist’s instincts. While the filmmaker’s theories presented from Murphy’s point of view somehow represent the generalization of the filmmaker’s world in different people’s minds, so the role of the middle-aged artist is played by Noé himself.
The art of the current era forms a future community due to the direct relationship between art and society, which is why Murphy’s child – a member of the future community – is named Gaspar. Does Noé also taunt himself in the film? It seems that the artist’s work in the creation of a work of art is nothing but self-destruction and Noé articulates this self-destruction. In a more general look, we will see that the nature of love is nothing but self-destruction. Hence, a few moments in Love deal with the audience using infinite honesty. In Love there are evil moments instead of romantic elements with the characters being more like demons than lovers. An example of this is the scene in which Murphy regrets his infidelity and goes to the doorway of Electra’s demonic home. In this scene, the door of the house is overwhelmed by the colour and the rather crooked frame points to the abyss of this black hole. Is this the house of the lover or the house of the devil? This would be another parody; the irony is that sexual infidelity is basically a joke because the diversification has been the agreement between the lover and the beloved to strengthen their love. Of course, the girl’s name has justified the paradoxical contradiction that she acts, unlike the ancient Greek Electra. If the Greek myth prompted her brother to avenge their mother (Clytemnestra) and their stepfather (Aegisthus) in killing their father (Agamemnon) then Noé’s character named Electra encourages her lover to have sex with other women. This contradiction is another metaphor for what the filmmaker considers to be ‘‘love’’.
Love is also a tribute to the history of cinema, as seen in the numerous posters of major films that cover the wall of Murphy’s room and the numerous strolls that Murphy and Electra take on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim Bridge, which reminds the audience of Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider roaming in The Last Tango in Paris. These are reflections of the loneliness of the previous generation in the minds of the current generation. Of course, the other point is that in The Last Tango in Paris the salve of loneliness for the two characters was gender-based violence that somehow criticized modern European society. The film Love follows the same approach in a rather more radical way, but its conclusion is far more tragic than the death in Bertolucci’s film. There is no longer any act to be done by this generation, as seen when Murphy cries to his child “Excuse me. Life is not easy at all.” Just a little earlier, through imagination he had bonded Electra with himself and she was in his arms and calm. The fantasy element is induced through the close shot of the inside of the lamp in Murphy’s room, which is shown for the first time when Murphy and Electra attend an oriental party and drink a potion in the tradition of cleansing the soul. Murphy is fanciful after this scene and we see a close shot of the lights in his room. In the final scene, after Murphy’s memoir has been reviewed and he is alone and crying in the bathtub, a close shot of Olympus shows Murphy imagining Electra’s presence.
The music in Love plays an important role because it has a significant impact on the process of story development and understanding the emotions of the characters. At first, Erik Satie’s piece expresses the overall atmosphere of the work and is played in the “Act Point” scene in contrast to the film’s setting. Moreover, the theme of “School at Night,” the musical theme of a horror film with the same title, is played in order to induce parody and all of these measures are used to prevent associations with these familiar situations. In the final scene, in which the only way for Murphy to soothe his pain is to use his imagination, works by Bach and Satie are played according to the moods of the characters and the spectators, both of whom have been tormented for two hours, but there is no rest. The main color of the frame is yellow and gradually turns red, emphasizing violence, and gender in the context of love. Eventually, Love considers loving nothing more than the instincts of anger and lust.
It is difficult to say whether the love in today’s world is love itself or not. It is difficult to think in that fashion or to give definitive verdicts while the future is a witness to such loves. However, one thing can be said almost definitely, which is that if Love had been made many years ago then people would have laughed at it with surprise. Now that it has been made, they are caught between laughing and crying but in the future this movie will no longer be funny. I just hope that in the future people don’t cry from the Noé effect.