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Love’s Astral Spy: An Interview with Gasper Noé

The controversial director discusses his approach to sex and its representation in his new 3D sex-love-relationship drama, "Love".
Amir Ganjavie
For a long time Gasper Noé has dreamed of making a movie about lovemaking, a dream that he could finally realize in his new film, Love. The representation of sex is a familiar ingredient of contemporary films. However, in contrast to the work of directors such as Buñuel or Pasolini, the erotic impulse almost never assumes a subversive form in these films. We are far from the ethos in which the cinematic representation of sex was thrillingly political and radical. Love, however, manages to transcend the numbing banality of eros in contemporary cinema by constructing its sex scenes in unorthodox ways. Noé's camera rarely focuses on sexual organs and, instead, depicts the scenes of lovemaking from God’s point of view. Noé's aesthetic in Love remains particularly faithful to André Bazin's suggestion that, because of the wholeness of erotic acts, the cinema is limited in the representation of sex. To Bazin, the image of penetration could not represent wholly what we should call a sexual act. Following a screening of Love, I discussed with the director his approach to sex and its representation.

NOTEBOOK: It’s been six years since Enter the Void.
GASPAR NOÉ: I planned to start this movie two years ago but I was delayed. However, I have a manic obsession with this project and didn’t want to abandon it for another movie. 
NOTEBOOK: I heard that the original title of the movie was Danger. Why did you choose Love instead?
NOÉ: I feel better about Love. Think of the same images with Danger; it wouldn’t work.
NOTEBOOK: Why did you film in 3D?
NOÉ: The use of three-dimensional images provides the impression of capturing a moment from the past; this could be childish or illogical but you feel as though what you get is better than any flat image can be. Because the movie connects to the story of a lost love, I had the feeling that 3D would provide the audience with a much better sense of identification with the main character and his nostalgic state of mind. I hope that this aesthetic decision will produce a more immersive experience for the audience. I had the same thinking when I chose the voiceover and music to help me better show the emotional failure of the protagonist, somebody who is lost in his actions and thoughts. 
NOTEBOOK: At end of the movie, the images become still and take on a photographic quality. At that moment it appears to me that for you love or sex can be better represented in a still photo than in cinema. I am asking you this question because Hubert Marcuse argues in his book on Eros and Civilization that erotic moments could be better represented in the moments of being than becoming. With this in mind, photography is more powerful than cinema in representing eros. I know that this might be much too theoretical and off the road, but did you have any of this in mind when shooting the last scene?
NOÉ: Not at all. I would say that we have a still at the end because the movie comes to its conclusion; it’s all gone. The whole movie narrows into a space that’s also like a womb with all of its radiations so it’s like going back into the mother’s womb.
NOTEBOOK: So there was no theoretical or philosophical issue behind the conceptualization of erotic moments in the movie—for example, no attempt to say something about the nature of cinema and its relation with eros? 
NOÉ: No, no, the ending has no message about the nature of cinema. Now the movie is mostly about the essence of that mental vision that people call falling in love. The guy goes with that emotional process that’s also a chemical process. It’s also like a whole life process in which you become crazy, you become blind because you are excited by another human as the object of your desire and then you can’t think. You suppose that your life is going to become better than that and then you get to the mating process that produces all kinds of substances in your brain: additional endorphins, additional dopamine, additional serotonin. And then when you start having sex, you get addicted to the sex, you get addicted to the kissing, you get addicted to the picture or the voice of the person, you get addicted to his or her presence, and you suffer through the lack of the person’s presence when they are gone. I’ve been to those scenes many times of my life, I also have seen friends ready to commit suicide when a love story falls to pieces and that’s what I want to portray. The idea was not even to do an adult movie or a shocking movie; the idea was mostly to portray that scene that burned a lot of time in my life and that burned my closest friends and most of the people I know. 
NOTEBOOK: What is striking is that this movie never tries to show a body as an object of desire. We don’t have, for example, the usual scenes of a woman with long sexy legs. Most of the movie is in medium shots and only during the sex scenes do we have long shots. It looks like a god’s view but we never see the other as an object of desire; we always remain interested in the whole process of love making.  
NOÉ: Very true. Also, because the movie is not seen from a subjective perspective, you don’t see the movie through the eyes of the actor but rather the actor inside the frame. It looks like someone filming a story all day and I added a voiceover to his character and the story of the relationship is told through his memories. As you said, it is like the vision of a god who was in the room and could film them.
NOTEBOOK: Slavoj Žižek once argued that cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire; it tells you how to desire. With this in mind, filmmakers obviously have much to say with regard to sexual acts and what is considered normal and abnormal in society. Given this, in this movie did you try to create or educate the audience in any way about the human relationship with sexuality?
NOÉ: I would say that I just wanted a movie that is close to life. I don’t care what other people are feeling and I was not thinking of other people’s movies or videos. I was just thinking let’s try to do something if not honest then at least as close as possible to the emotional feeling of those situations that you know or that your friends have been through.
I don’t have lessons to give to anybody. I know what I have experienced myself. I’ve seen some of my friends doing things that I thought were mistakes and then they actually succeeded in their relationships so I’m not teaching anybody how to behave. Also, you have an emotional process that is programmed in your childhood and what is good for some people is bad for others. Some people succeed in a very monogamous relationship while some other people succeed in a very open relationship. Most of the time, people are somewhere in between and they learn to behave properly or they learn not to give in to all of their temptations. Each couple knows what’s best for them in order to survive. I know stories that last fifty years. I’ve seen it in my parent's generation sometimes—some couples would last fifty years or more; sixty years with both partners cheating on each other. On the other hand, there are some people who even without being religious manage to just stick to their initial ideal. They want it but it’s true that monogamy is not in the genetic code. It’s like a learnt code. 
NOTEBOOK: So, we can think of this movie as being very related to you, a sort of autobiography?
NOÉ: So many people ask me if the movie is autobiographical. I know that world, I know that life but hopefully or unhopefully I never got a girl accidentally pregnant. However, I've seen some of my closest friends having the most drama that they could ever expect in their lives by getting a girl pregnant. They very soon find their life’s projects going in another direction. 
NOTEBOOK: Did you choreograph the sex scenes?
NOÉ: No, there was no choreography. I only put them in the position and told them start the scene.
NOTEBOOK: The sex club scene is quite striking and realistic. Is that a real location? 
NOÉ: Yes, it is. And the extras were mostly porn actors. There are many similar locations in Paris.
NOTEBOOK: I remember that Lars von Trier chose the male lead for Nymphomania after he sent him his videos of him having sex. Did you consider such criteria when you chose your actors?
NOÉ: They did not rehearse any scenes before shooting. They kissed for the first time in front of the camera on the first day of shooting. Of course, I was very happy and excited to have both Karl [Glusman, who plays Murphy] and Aomi [Muyock, who plays Electra] and also probably because I found them to be funny people to talk with. The movie focuses mainly on Electra and Murphy’s characters so for their part they really need to feel confident with each other. That confidence came very quickly because I’ve seen that he’s very friendly and she’s very friendly and they are intelligent so the connection worked. Without their charisma the movie would be very different. Maybe the lighting would have been the same, the editing would have been close to it, but I depended more on the casting for this movie than for any other movie that I had made before.
NOTEBOOK: I heard that some people found the lead male actor more charismatic than the female one.
NOÉ: Maybe his character is more predictable than hers but if you see them from the outside then you enjoy it. You are like an astral spy on the relationship and the movie is quite intimate because the actress agreed to play the game. I heard many people say,  “Oh, they’re so gorgeous, the two of them.” Maybe some people say that her character is more profound. I also heard girls saying that they have been through this situation but I was happy to hear the male point of view.  
NOTEBOOK: Did the actors define any limitation for their performances in the movie or were they ready to do anything that you wanted?
NOÉ: Sometimes they did not feel good about the things I wanted from them. For example, the couple in the movie buys a dildo but you never see them use it. The actress told me that there is no way that she use a dildo in the front of the camera. She said “I am not going to put a vibrator in my pussy.”
NOTEBOOK: We have the full images of the male sexual organ in the movie but we don’t see the full and close images of a vagina in the movie. What made you less interested in the representation of female sexual organs? Was it also a limitation imposed by the actress?
NOÉ: It’s not because I didn’t want to go with the camera below their legs. I would say that it would have seemed more artificial to put the camera in front of the vagina and I didn’t know where to put it. I didn’t think it was needed and I knew that I also wanted to do that funny shot with the penis coming. But, I would say, I think pussies are really attractive especially when they’re not shaven. However, I never saw that it was essential to make a close-up of the vagina and there is one scene in which she’s receiving oral sex and you see her vagina from close but maybe because he’s there licking her so it doesn’t seem like a close up. In general, as a heterosexual, I’m more attracted to images of vaginas than images of penises but in the film there are no close-ups of their buttocks either.


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