Cannes 2015: 'Love' and 'Youth' Amp Up the Sex at the Festival
Both Gaspar Noé's Love and Paulo Sorrentino's Youth explore sexual desire, but they take very different approaches.
Gaspar Noé's 3D extravaganza Love opens on a nude Murphy (Karl Glusman) and Electra (Aomi Muyock) giving each other a passionate and interminable hand jobs, all the way to the payoff. Next, in a scene set on New Year's Day, Murphy wakes up next to another woman, Omi (Klara Kristin), with his two-year-old son crying next door. A phone call informs him that Electra had been depressed, suicidal, and missing for three months.
Love, screening out of competition at Cannes, unfolds in a series of flashbacks that reveal the tumultuous relationship between Murphy, a film student, and Electra, an artist. Apparently based entirely on sexual desire, the liaison is repeatedly interrupted by fits of jealousy or the most pedestrian declarations of love. At least some of these interruptions are instigated by their decision to invite Omi, a new neighbor, over for a threesome. When Omi and Murphy start an affair, the baby is the result.
The film is worth watching primarily for its imaginative, if in no way transgressive, sex scenes, including a close-up of a 3D penis that ejaculates straight into the audience's faces. Characters perform varied but conventional heterosexual acts, the only crime against bourgeois morality being the occasional participation of more than two people in them. (The one time Electra tries to pair Murphy up with a transsexual partner, he's so upset that he leaves abruptly.) As a stationary camera films sex acts in continuous takes, often from above, like food porn pictures so popular on Instagram, 3D focuses the eye all the more on the choreography and the shapes of perfect young bodies.
If this isn't annoying enough, Love is also quite plainly a filmmaker's indulgent in-joke, self-referential to the extreme. Murphy dreams of making "a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality," much like the film he inhabits. When he feels despondent over losing Electra, Murphy is reduced to weeping in the shower while embracing his crying son and moaning "Sorry, Gaspar". The director himself plays Electra's sleazy boss, the owner of "Noé's Art Gallery". Wild Bunch producer Vincent Maraval plays a French cop who arrests Murphy after he attacks the art gallery owner, in a fit of jealousy, then suggests the coupe go to a swingers' club as way to overcome their disagreements.
Despite its narcissism and inane dialogues, Love does reach new technical horizons. First, along with Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac) and others, Noé works to make explicit sex act a valid and ordinary narrative and aesthetic element in film. The number of lovers and their positions vary enough in Love to suggest that a choreographer of the sex scenes merits a line in the credits. Second, 3D does expand the aesthetic impact of the scenes. Invented more than 60 years ago, 3D remains underused by directors, save for genre innovators like James Cameron (Avatar) and Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), or the ever adventurous Wim Wenders, whose Pina reconceived dance on screen. With Love, Noé does much the same for sex.
Youth (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
Paulo Sorrentino's Youth, a contender for Palme d'Or, also explores sexual desire, this time of two octogenarians who've been friends since childhood. Fred (Michael Caine), a British retired composer and conductor, and Mick (Harvey Keitel), a Hollywood film director intent on making his last cinematic "testament", meet up at a Swiss spa hotel for a vacation. Here they begin to contemplate their lives, focusing on former loves and longing for current beauties.
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Mark Kozelek, Robert Seethaler, Alex MacQueen
Studio: Fox Searchlight
When a nude Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea) joins them in a pool, her youthful sexuality inspires an almost childlike joy in the two friends. This scene, along with others featuring the entertaining congeries of odd characters at the hotel, make Sorrentino's film appear theatrical in the manner of La Dolce Vita, but also fragmented. The wealthy guests line up for spa procedures as if they're cattle awaiting slaughter, waved along by ingratiating staff. A queen's emissary (Alex Macqueen) implores Fred to conduct his famous composition "Simple Songs" for the prince's birthday. An actress (Jane Fonda) whom Mick made a star once upon a time chooses a TV role over starring in his last film. American actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) preps for a new role while lamenting the fact that, despite starring in a slew of art films, he is only remembered for playing a robot in a commercial success. Fred's daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), an overgrown child, voices her regrets over separating from her husband, who is also Mick's son.
For all the jumble of plot this description suggests, the film is full of funny and tender moments. In one of many amusing exchanges, Lena asks her dad repeatedly to tell her what is so special about her husband's mistress, a question he refuses to answer until he does: "He said she was good in bed." Lena is instantly horrified, whining, "Why did you have to tell me?!" Fred creates another sort of order out of chaos, when he conducts a herd of cows, punctuating their moos and bell dings. But as Youth imagines assorted views of youth, most looking back, it doesn't bring its visual details and amazing performances together. Their very cleverness leaves us hankering for a sharper, more focused storyline.