Monday, November 16, 2015

Cruising

Avatar (2009, James Cameron) was the first movie I saw screened in 3D in a theater. There have been a few every year since then that I've enjoyed. But Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011, Takashi Miike) was very surprising to encounter because I'd read a listing that said it was screening at the Cannes Film Festival in competition in 2011. Miike in 3D at Cannes? I'm so glad I had the chance to see it. It was a one-off screening and I'm so glad I didn't have to work or anything. Then there was Adieu au langage (2014, Jean-Luc Godard) which was even more alluring. Godard in 3D at Cannes? This past May at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival Gaspar Noé debuted out of competition his latest film in 3D.


Love (2015, Gaspar Noé) opens cold with a single take static frame depicting MURPHY and ELECTRA fondling each other's genitals until he shoots his load. And underscoring this shot is Erik Satie's exquisite "Gnossiene, 3" (Lent) piano composition.

The film then wakes with Murphy in bed with his child and the child's mother OMI. The rest of Love is a series of flashbacks taking place in a single day that show the events in Murphy and Electa's history that led up to this morning. I've always been a fan of this reverse chronology narrative structure, like for instance in the South Korean movie Peppermint Candy (2000, Lee Chang-dong).

Gaspar Noé's style is on full display foremost featuring cinematography by Benoît Debie, who also shot Irréversible (2002, Noé) and Enter the Void (2009, Noé). Noé has a sex industry catering to all manner of tastes, taboo-targeting, dark, tungsten, warmly lit, strobing, steadicam first person subjective POV aesthetic. And if that's what you fancy, Love will not disappoint.

There are so many sex scenes in Love. And they last a long time. There're also several in-jokes, sly meta-framing devices, and playful humor to be found. Early in the film, when Murphy goes to his bookshelf (alongside of which is the Love palace model from Enter the Void) and retrieves his opium stash, along with photos of Electra, the VHS case that hides these contents is Noé's debut film I Stand Alone (1998, Noé). Later in the film Murphy and Electra are seen early in their relationship to commit a pact where they agree to always "stand together" and never leave each other. There's also a dialogue exchange that gets big laughs: when Murphy responds to what he wants to name his child, "Gaspar." Also when Electra introduces Murphy to her ex-boyfriend art gallery owner, Noé, this character is played by Gaspar Noé, albeit with a grey wig.

And in another bit of meta business, Murphy explains to the other girl at the party that his ultimate dream is to make a "sentimental sex film." Obviously that is what Noé is showing us. And as tediously as Love is paced, as excessive are all of the sex scenes, as bad as all of the acting is, I admire his intentions; and, this outweighs all else here. A lot of the dialogue is exemplary of the tightrope one walks when trying to be sincere and risking sounding cheesy. Like when Electra says "How can something so lovely bring such great pain. Maybe it's better to never love at all." I'm vulnerable to that kind of material because it's what I go to the movies for, the communication of feelings. And I think Noé invested everything he needed to to craft this narrative in a way that is abundantly satisfying and creative.

The third act really takes things further with the visit to the sex club. Around this part of the film Murphy gets arrested for drunken assault on a guy, and the cop at the precinct ends up inviting him out for a beer later, then recommends he take his girlfriend to a sex club so he can have sex with her and other women and not be jealous because that's the problem with his American mentality. The night Murphy takes Electra to this sex club is a wonderful set piece. I was definitely reminded of the suspenseful, dark, what's going to happen underground sex club scene in Cruising (1980, William Friedkin) and also to some degree the club from Irréversible. I never would have imagined how ominous and filthy sex club-fitting John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 theme could have sounded until I witnessed this scene.

The final shot of the movie was perfect. The aspect ratio switches from 2.35:1 to 1.33:1 and Murphy and Electa embrace each other in a bathtub, face to face, as water from the shower trickles down on them. Electra asks, "Please promise me that you'll never leave me," and Murphy responds, "I  promise I'll love you to the end." After holding on this, superimposed on the screen is THE END. Then the credits roll, holding this image, as the scene is underscored by an excerpt from Glenn Gould's rendition of Bach's Goldberg Variations. And for me this is didactic and romantic--Noé saying that this first night together, this first moment of two people having just decided to fall in love and believe they have a chance at being together for the rest of their lives is love. Nothing else after that matters.

We never find out what happened to Electra. There's just a cryptic phone recording that says something like out of service. She says if she ever had to be in pain and not have love that she'd kill herself. And her mom tells Murphy that she'd been saying some suicidal things for the past two months. Dark.

Although there is a CU shot of a penis ejaculating in 3D with sperm projecting out into the audience. This movie is as dirty as it is sweet. There is the moment when Murphy claims he wants to make films with blood, sperm, and tears.

The soundtrack is a lot of fun too. There are some hauntingly beautiful pieces, especially the Satie stuff. But, also some other clever choices like the first sex scene between Murphy and Omi using Goblin's "School at Night," lullaby from Deep Red (1975, Dario Argento).

--Dregs

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