|Interview: Gaspar Noe Talks About "Love"
|by Peter Sobczynski
The French filmmaker behind such cinematic scandals as "I Stand Alone" and "Irreversible" discusses his highly controversial new film, the sexually explicit 3-D epic "Love."
From the debut of his first feature film, "I Stand Alone" (1998), French director Gaspar Noe has made a name for himself as one of the world's most controversial figures. That film, about a brutish horse meat butcher whose attempts to reconnect with his mentally handicapped teenage daughter are hampered by his own violent tendencies and disintegrating mental condition, was so bleak that by the time that it arrived at its climax, the possibility that he might murder his own child actually seemed like the less depressing outcome. He followed that up in 2002 with the dark drama "Irreversible," a film that opens with what might have been regarded as one of the most violent scenes ever put on a film--a man (Vincent Cassel) grabbing a fire extinguisher and caving in the head of the man he believes brutally raped his girlfriend (Monica Bellucci)--if not for the fact that it was followed (the story is told in reverse) by an extended sequence depicting the rape itself for something like ten agonizing minutes. And yet, though these films are not "entertaining" by any stretch of the imagination, Noe's obvious directorial skills have taken such decidedly unsavory material and made it watchable, though few may want to come back for seconds.
On the surface, his latest film, "Love," sounds like an anomaly. It tells a familiar enough story--an American film student in Paris (Karl Glusman) falls in love with a gorgeous, loving but emotionally unstable woman (Aomi Muyock) but their relationship goes bad when their decision to invite the young hottie next door (Klara Kristin) in for a threesome has unexpected ramifications for all of them--and while there is plenty of emotional violence to be had as the unhappy lovers tear into each other with an almost terrifying ferocity, there is none of the physical brutality that people have come to know and fear in Poe's work. What makes this unquestionably a Noe film is the level of sexual explicitness on display here--starting off with an extended foray into mutual masturbation, the film observes its characters reenacting large chunks of the Kama Sutra in detail and without any of the usual bits of artifice utilized by most filmmakers dealing erotic material--no judicious cutaways, no obvious body doubles and no panning away from glimpses of uncovered male genitalia. Not only that, the film is also in 3-D and yes, there is one moment in which. . .well, let us just say that it is too bad that the title "Comin at Ya!" was already taken.
"Love" may be a bit of a step down from Noe's previous films, largely because the guy at its center is such a self-centered, self-involved boob that it takes most of the running time to finally warm up to him. However, while it may not be for everybody--or even most people--it is not without interest. Like Noe's other film, it is beautiful to look at throughout and always visually inventive. Making her acting debut, Muyock is an undeniably magnetic presence who turns in an ultimately heartbreaking performance that give the film its emotional center. And yes, a lot of it is quite sexy and definitely beats the flaccid likes of "Fifty Shades of Grey" in that regard.
Recently, Noe came to America to promote "Love"--now in theaters and on VOD--and got on the phone for a few minutes to discuss the film and its long period of gestation, the challenges of shooting sex scenes and working with the miracle of 3-D.
How did the idea for "Love" first come about? From what I understand, you have been planning on doing a film along these lines as far back as before "Irreversible" and it is said that you had even pitched it to the stars of that project, Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel.
I did not write it for them. I had written it for an unknown couple to play in it and to shoot on a very low budget in France. Then one day I ran into them at a party and they said that they might be interested in it but when they read the script, they turned it down. In the meantime, a producer said that if I had a movie with Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassell, he could get me the money. That was when I came up with the project that became "Irreversible" and we were shooting five weeks later with a script that was just three pages long. That movie was very successful commercially and it allowed me to do "Enter the Void" as well as this one.
Did the project change in any significant way from how you originally envisioned it to the final film we have now?
Not so much in terms of the story. Back then, no one was doing movies in 3-D so it for sure would not have been made in 3-D. Maybe because I had not yet had a commercial success, it would have been much cheaper--I would never have had the money to get the famous music that is in it now. Between that moment and when I started shooting last year, I had also developed more of a personality than I had back then.
When you first began imagining the film, was one aspect--the story or the highly explicit nature in which it is presented--more in the forefront or did they both have equal weight right from the start?
They were both part of the same thing. I wanted to depict a love story as we know it but you cannot separate the moments of making love because it is all part of the same energy. I just wanted to portray those existential moments.
From what I understand, you made this film without a formal script other than a basic story treatment of only a few pages.
The treatment that I used when we started shooting was seven pages long and contained almost all of the scenes in the film. There were very quick descriptions--sometimes one line and a maximum of five lines--and that left us free during the shooting to reinvent the scenes and create on the set depending on where I would put the camera.
You worked this way on this film and on "Irreversible" but on "Enter the Void," I believe you utilized a complete screenplay. Do you have a preference between the two approaches or does it depend on the specific project?
You have more fun when you create on the set. If you pre-create your movies, you put yourself in a kind of a cage. However, it is good to have a kind of narrative structure to serve as a skeleton.
Your previous films are infamous for their scenes of incredibly brutal physical violence, especially "Irreversible" with the notorious nightclub beating and the agonizingly extended rape sequence. "Love," on the other hand, has no real physical violence to speak of but it does contain moments of emotional brutality--the vicious argument in the taxi between the two lovers saying the most incredibly hurtful things to each other is almost impossible to watch. As a filmmaker, how much of a challenge was it for you to depict such brutality on a purely emotional level?
That is something that happens with young people in love--they get jealous and say the worst things you can imagine to each other. Most people that I know have been through that--myself included--especially when alcohol is involved. I find that scene very violent and some of my strong male friend cried during that scene because it reminded them of all the things that they have said under the influence of alcohol and jealousy.
Can you talk a little about how the casting came about? Karl has been in a few movies before this one but I believe that neither of the two women had ever acted in a film before. Was it a requirement for you that those cast be more or less unknowns?
If I had found a pre-existing couple that would have accepted the movie, I would have done it with them because they both would have been famous faces. If you do it with one person who is known and one who isn't. When I cast, I do not pay attention to whether the people have been studying acting or not. I have my camera and film them moving, talking and pretending and I can see if they seem real or not. I do those screen tests and very often, the ones who are the best are the one who have not acted before. When I saw Karl, I knew that he would be the perfect person to play in the movie and the same went for Aomi but then I had to introduce the two of them to each other to see if they would get along. They did.
How did you go about staging the numerous sex scenes in the film?
I just wanted those scenes to feel real. I wanted to show how playful making love can be. There were many different situations in that very short script and I just discussed them with the actors to see about their own limits. We were doing a film about a universal subject and we didn't want it to come across as too shocking.
So no elaborate storyboards or anything?
I have never used a storyboard for any of my movies. It was all about trust and some people are more playful than others. For that film "Blue is the Warmest Color," they announced that all of the scenes were simulated--the scenes were a turn-on but the fact that they announced that they were simulated was a turn-off. We all decided, the actors and I, that we would not talk about the sex scenes but that we would talk about the love story so that it would seem more like something out of real life.
Were there any instance where the actors arrived on the set and then had qualms about doing certain things even though they had presumably been discussed at some length ahead of time?
The only moment like that was with Karl in the scene when the two go to the hotel with the transvestite, even though nothing happens in it. The one scene that both Karl and I were both worried about was the one at the end when he is crying with the baby in his arms. We were worried because when you have a scene with such a young child--he was about two--they are so instinctual that he could just scream or run away from the set. It is a very emotional scene in that he has to cry into the arms of a baby who might be crying too or might try to run away. He had to spend some time with the child and become friends with him and play with toys. In the end, I really like that scene and it turned out to be the easiest one in the film.
Where did the idea to shoot "Love" in 3-D come from and how did end up affecting your filmmaking approach?
The problem with 3-D is that it is hard to do Steadicam shots. In some ways, it is problematic but I really like the results and the effect of intimacy that the 3-D creates.
When "Love" premiered at Cannes earlier this year, it quickly became the most scandalous film of the entire festival. As someone whose films often arrive surrounded by a lot of controversy, what were your thoughts about the impact that "Love" made when it debuted?
Cannes did not have any especially controversial films when they announced their selection this year. I showed my first cut to the director of the festival one week after he announced their selections and I think one of the reasons he picked it, even though it was not finished, was because the festival usually has one scandalous movie ever year and mine suddenly became the pre-announced scandal. There is nothing particularly provocative or scandalous in this movie--it is just a poetic movie about passionate love. I don't see anything dirty about male genitals--they are just part of the body like the eyes, the face and the ears.
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originally posted: 11/06/15 10:53:23
last updated: 11/09/15 00:30:49