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Gaspar Noé Talks the Sentimental Boner of ‘Love,’ Pubic Hair, and Equal Pleasure

Written by on October 29, 2015 

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A medium-height, slightly nervous, shy-seeming, fast-talking man, Gaspar Noé doesn’t really announce himself as the formally audacious director behind some of this millennium’s most assaultive and, speaking broadly, extreme narrative films. Perhaps that (altogether friendly) personality more clearly befits his latest film, Love. What’s been referred to for the years of its development as a “3D porn movie,” but hews closer to Last Tango in Paris or The Mother and the Whore: a slow, sad, and only intermittently confrontational picture that mostly uses its format as a tool for rendering spaces and memories more immediate. The inevitably downbeat ending, communicated early, lends the sex an uncomfortable air — one where even 3D cum shots carry a certain sort of melancholy.

Despite his work’s general reliance on images over words, Noé is a very verbose artist, taking a question about one thing and providing an answer about two others. While setting up the recording on my phone, I regaled him with the story of watching his previous feature, Enter the Void, with my mother, and from there it was off.

The Film Stage: –so, needless to say, she was curious as to what you’re like in real life.

Gaspar Noé: Did you mother enjoy the movie?

More or less.

You should watch this movie with your mother. I remember my mother, on my eighteenth birthday, she brought me to see Pasolini’s Salò. I said, “Why did you show me this?” She said, “You’re old enough to understand human cruelty.” [Laughs] To her, it was important that I see that movie. “Now you’re a man. You have to face what the humankind is.”

When this film was in pre-production, you expressed the hope that Love would “give guys boners and make girls cry.”

Yeah, but, at the end, it did not work that way. I don’t know if people get boners with this movie — maybe. Mostly, I would say that it gives a kind of sentimental boner to both boys and girls. What I heard is that, when you come out of the movie, you don’t feel horny, but you feel emotionally aroused to start a love story again and again. Most people have been damaged by failed love stories in their lives. Love, when it goes to a conclusion and feels carnal — when it’s strong — it’s very addictive. The more you love a person, the more you want to spend time with a person — dancing, swinging, having sex.

In the consumerist society in which we live, sometimes it’s very hard to maintain that emotional state for more than one year or two years because it’s very time-consuming. If people are madly in love, they spend so much time fucking that they become socially unimperative: you stop working, you stop studying — whatever. So even when things go the right, joyful way, at a point, people have to quit that state of mind, because it’s so addictive that you’re, like, blind to the rest of the world. Probably when it ends up with the birth of a baby, then it naturally moves into another dimension. Otherwise, most of the biggest love passions that I’ve seen in my life end up failing, because of the nature of that addiction.

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Then when did you realize it wasn’t going to work out that way?

It’s very hard to know what the movie’s going to look like before you have the locations, before you know who you’re going to be filming, before you know in what format you’re going to be filming. In this case, we ended up doing 3D, but it was not seriously planned to do in 3D before I got this subsidy from the French government. What I always knew was that I wanted to represent love in all its aspects: in its playful aspect, in its carnal aspect, in its addictive aspect. The scenes, one by one, if you put them in a chronological order, they’re sexy. Then the story of the movie, as it’s written, is about a guy who’s remembering how he fell in love with a girl and how he’s failing, so once we put those same scenes in the narrative order — not the chronological order — those scenes that could be arousing turn sentimental or melancholic, because you know that he lost the girl, and if you add sentimental music to those scenes, it’s not like if you were adding disco music. You can add Giorgio Moroder to any of those scenes and then they would turn you horny. If you put on Erik Satie or Beck, I don’t know, they turn you sad or melancholic.

At the end, I heard many guys telling me that they cried in the movie, mostly because they relate to their own lost loves. Some girls told me they cried at the end, when the father is in the bathtub with the baby, because there is something touching about seeing a man crying with a baby. Women, or girls, are more surprised to see a very sexual guy in such a position, a loving position, with his baby. Also, for both genders, you’re not used to seeing movies in which sex is also innate to the fact of procreation. In most movies, or in most videos that you can find, dealing with a boy and a girl mating, they never talk about the fact that the girll can get pregnant. Because, in this movie, girls get pregnant and guys are aware of that, it comes closer to life than what you’d usually see in nude scenes, and it’s also more fulfilling than what you’d see in sentimental comedies, in which people, like, sell the moon to each other.

But then the best of their relationship is missing onscreen — you never see them fucking. Sometimes you see them kissing. The movies that represent love and passion in a complicated way are extremely rare. Many doors were opened in the ‘70s by daring directors, and also daring, new laws that opened the representation of sex in underground cinema. Now almost all those doors are oxidized because no one is using them. In the Realm of the Senses was in the ‘70s, and, since then, who took advantage of that sexual revolution from the ‘70s? Perhaps Blue Is the Warmest Color is the closest thing to a representation of a love addiction that I’ve seen lately.

And, given its place in narrative cinema, In the Realm of the Senses still feels shocking today.

But what I did not like in Oshima’s movie is that it ended with an act of violence, and that act of violence is very extreme. I did a movie [Irreversible] in which there was a scene of a woman being raped, but that’s not a very common experience. Falling in love is a universal experience that almost everybody in the audience has been through, and I’m extremely surprised that there are not 100 movies a year showing how joyful and painful love can be without having the producers, the director, and the actors self-censoring themselves. There’s no reason to censor yourself; the commercial issues are a lie. For example, my movies reach everywhere, mostly with the highest rating that you can give to a movie. But my movies encounter no distribution problems, contrary to what people think.

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The love scenes put as much focus on female pleasure as they do male, despite this story being told from a man’s point-of-view. Is it a challenge to put them on an equal playing field?

I’m not a male chauvinist — and I’m not a feminist, either — but yes: I think it was important to portray a sharing relationship, with a couple giving pleasure to each other as much as they were taking pleasure. Then, what’s true is that the male organ is much easier to film and represent than the female organs, for different reasons. The male genitals are more visible than the female genitals — especially, for example, if the guy is giving cunnilingus to the girl. You don’t see her pussy, because his head is… but, yeah, all of the movie is seen from the male character’s point of view, because it’s about his flashbacks on this lost love, and also you hear his stupid or intelligent thoughts during the whole movie — or even useless thoughts. But you follow this dream of mine.

I would say the end of the movie is equalitarian in terms of attention. The movie pays as much attention to the girl as the movie pays attention to the man, and, from what I heard, his character seems deeper, more intelligent, and more mature, so she’s more attaching than his character. He’s a more common character, and her character is more loaded. Initially, I said I would find a real couple to play the couple, and then I did not find the couple to play the couple. Then I found Aomi and I found Karl. Initially, Aomi did not want to do the movie, but she changed her mind at the last moment.

I am very happy with the result, but whether they’re close or not to the characters they’re portraying, what comes out when you get people to play in a movie — and you film them from so close and you see their faces on a huge screen — is that the charisma of the people steals the part, and both of them are very charismatic; even Klara. At the end, the movie that you’ve written based on many events of your personal life, or someone else’s life, is one thing. What steals the attention is, if you have uncharismatic people, the story would not work; if you have charismatic people, their joy, the way they dance, whatever, talks to the audience in a different level of consciousness.

Initially I thought the movie would have no dialogues, but we improvised, and Karl and Aomi are very funny, so the movie ended up being funnier, because of who they were — and I like making jokes. The movie ended up more talkative than I wanted, and much funnier than I thought it would be. But I knew what were the melodramatic elements in the movie, and I thought people would cry at the end. Some people do, but I did not expect, when we started the project, was that people would laugh each time he said some stupidity.

Karl Glusman’s performance here reminds me quite a bit of Nathaniel Brown’s in Enter the Void; they even look and sound rather similar.

And, also, the character is close to Vincent Cassel, also. They have the same haircut; they wear the same kinds of clothes. I would say these three characters are kind of alter-egos. They don’t look like me, but they wear my kind of clothes; they have my kind of haircut. They are both very touching, but if you wear a Levi’s T-shirt, Levi’s pants, you put on sneakers and a military jacket… at the end, they’re kind of universal characters. I would say almost any film student on this planet would relate to that character.

You’ve said you wanted actresses who have pubic hair, since you find that more natural and appealing. What was the conversation there, exactly? Did you ask them about this point-blank?

No. The good thing about the people that I cast for my movie is that they had seen my previous films. Karl was a big fan. Aomi did not like Irreversible that much, but she really liked my first film and Enter the Void. Klara had seen Enter the Void. So we all knew we were not doing a dirty movie; we were doing a real movie about something that is really about a subject that’s at the center of everybody’s life, and we knew the movie would have a normal release; we knew the movie would show in Cannes if we had time to propose it to the Cannes Film Festival. So we did  the whole movie in the most joyful mood. We talked about the limits of what we could do. There was, like, a global, spoken agreement of what we could shoot. From that point on, what is fake and what is not is not an issue; we all decided it was better not to talk of how the movie was cooked in the kitchen.

I would say a girl who’s shaven, for me, is a turn-off; I would say it’s unnatural. Like, I don’t like fake boobs. I don’t like collagen or plastic surgery. I don’t like tattoos in general. I just said, “Oh, if you had to say what you wanted to see in a woman, it would be the kind of all-natural woman that you would see in the Playboy centerfolds of the ‘70s and ‘80s.” Maybe because I grew up with those images, for me, those were the ultimate images of beauty; maybe if I was born 20 years later, my ideal would be different. But, yeah, there’s something that makes the movie look vintage. But, at the end, the images of beauty are kind of vintage.

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Love enters a limited release on Friday, October 30.


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