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In Gaspar Noé’s Franco-Belgium 3D erotic drama, Love (2015), the film’s young cinema student protagonist, Murphy, declares, “I want to make movies out of blood, sperm and tears. This is like the essence of life. I think movies should contain that, perhaps should be made of that.” This sentiment forms the essence of Noé’s brazen, electrifying fourth film, a solid return after his lingering five-year hiatus.

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The film centres on the hysterically passionate relationship between an American film-buff living in Paris, Murphy (Karl Glusman), and his alluring, yet unhinged ex-girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock), who become embroiled in a love-triangle with their lithe, blonde-tressed neighbour Omi (Klara Kristin). The adventurous couple’s invitation for their neighbour to join them in their amorous capers soon leads to the development of Murphy and Omi’s clandestine relationship, resulting in Omi’s unexpected pregnancy – this catalyses the tortuous breakdown of Murphy’s relationship with Electra.

Noé’s amorous plot is firmly rooted in Murphy’s past, brimming with erotic recollections of his drug-fuelled, sex-laden escapades with Electra. Yet, the film’s interspersion of despondent, momentary glimpses into Murphy’s dissatisfying present-day life – receiving a phone call from Electra’s mother, Nora (Isabelle Nicou), on a rainy January morning, who anxiously inquires as to the whereabouts of her estranged daughter – softly balances out the explicitly pornographic, carnal nature of the young couple’s liaison that occupies the majority of the film’s running-time.

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Noé’s risk of employing a cast of unknown actors (Love is the on-screen debut for the film’s two main actresses, Muyock and Kristin), however, fails to offer an authentic or gripping display of serious acting chops. The cast’s performances are consistently weak and saturated with somewhat cringe-worthy deliveries of deeply clichéd dialogues that lack sincerity. Likewise, the 135-minute-long ride wears thin well before the film’s halfway point, due to a lack of distinct plot development – the pitch wavers at a static equilibrium that fails to retain the viewer’s interest past certain climax points, especially when the novelty of the film’s unapologetic display of full-frontal nudity and plainly pornographic sex dissipates.

Despite the film’s discernible flaws, it is not wholly impossible to see why the auteur’s latest work was nominated for a Queer Palm at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and why the film’s cinematographer, Benoît Debie, was awarded the Jury Award for Best 3D Film at Camerimage Film Festival that the same year. Noé presents a deeply honest and highly resonant portrait of the pains, giddy exaltations and dark chagrins found in the exploration of human sexuality, all while lifting up a striking mirror to the audience and their collective taboos.

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