By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: Love

As Haddaway asks, “what is Love?” Love is Gaspar Noé’s latest attempt to wind cranks, as the internet surely saw this week in the not-safe-for-work movie posters showcasing his feature-length “art” porno. Love is a film where a main character—an aspiring filmmaker—says to another: “I just want to make a movie about love and sex and sensuality in a real way! Why haven’t I seen that before?”

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“I don’t even know what that means!”

(No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative!)

“No it’s not, it’s gross.” (Gets the people going!)

Brazenly, Noé, shit-disturber that he is, requests two hours of your time to witness his tedious art-sex romance. Real talk: it’s too easy to get worked up about the many reasons why Love is a waste of time, and it’s too easy to fall prey to the critical traps this film is laden with.

It’s a waste of time because, well, most importantly—does anyone really spend more than ten minutes staring at pornography? Okay, say you want some story in your smut—that’ll extend things, for sure. But what if the story is silly and the sex is …. boring? Or at least repetitive? If a marathon of dull porn centered a drug-addled love triangle sounds mind-numbing, that’s because it is.

Realistically, that’s all this is. Porn. That’s not a stigma, but with a narrative this clichéd (and somehow safe—a threesome is one character’s wildest fantasy), this film is far past the point of “romantic drama.” So replace your cheesy porno script with a bit of art-house sensationalism (impassioned speeches about sex and death and “love is the meaning of life!”) and equally bad dialogue, and you’ve got a fun way to spice up the Croisette. In 3D, naturally.

This is a movie where we watch someone ejaculate straight at the camera—I’m talking Mr. DeMille levels of close-up—and it’s just one-hundred percent juvenile. Because you know Noé is laughing at the squeamish audience reactions. He’s having his way with us, making the viewing experience all the more ridiculous. This may sound like something you’d say “oh, I gotta see this” to, but this scene comes after an hour of the sexual equivalent of paint drying.

Further immaturity is found in Noé’s self-insertion into the story. One character has a son named Gaspar; there’s another man named Noé. And on, and on, and on. That sort of playfulness is reminiscent of Leos Carax and Holy Motors—maybe it’s just French to be so cheeky?—but the autobiographical representation of Noé’s tendencies make this film far more childish than I think he intended. In attempting to create a new genre of philosophical pornography, he made something inane and monotonous and florid.

“I want to get drunk before Love,” I overheard a woman say outside Cannes’ Debussy Theatre on the eve of the film’s flagrant midnight debut. (A relevant Beyoncé song got stuck in my head immediately after.) Good advice: get drunk beforehand. It’ll help. See it with friends. Laugh all the way through. Giggle like school girls while wearing a goofy pair of 3D glasses. If not, you’ll sit there in silence. (And maybe frustration.)

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott