Interview: Gaspar Noé On LOVE's Altered States
For the excessively fortunate, love can resemble that of a Meg Ryan / Tom Hanks vehicle. Sadly, more often than not, love more closely resembles the latest Gaspar Noé nightmare, boldly titled, Love.
It is a word that yields multiple definitions conjuring what surely must be the widest spectrum of emotions of any word in the English language - far more than 'hate', a word Noé finds paramount to any attempt at a well rounded definition of love. His film honours this spectrum, taking the multiple definitions that come to mind and tangling them all together in a messy masala of beauty, purity, lust, and more than a little insanity... So understandable is the power and influence of the emotion that leniency is sometimes granted when a crime is committed in the throws of passion.
Noé's tale of passion and its inevitable heartache is told in retrospect, through the lens of the aftermath of a damaged relationship - a broken man mourning the ashes of hope. When we first meet Murphy, he is an expectant father trying to find contentment in his new relationship after a messy breakup. But the ghosts of love's past are close behind, haunting his present. From Murphy's lovesick mind, we see a flood of memories revealing themselves in scenes flashing before his eyes.
The story itself is far from groundbreaking, as there are probably as many approaches to the subject as there are definitions of it. When a love story is bad, few things are worse. But when directors like Bertolucci, Passolini, Kaufman, Cameron Mitchell and now Noé, tackle the subject without gloves, it can result in unflinchingly moving work. Written in semen-smeared letters, Noé's long-time passion project lands a penultimate flag on a vast subject.
Years after the hyper-heavy trips of Irreversible and Enter The Void, Gasper Noé has finally completed the work he set out to make long before the films that would earn him his reputation. It's tickling that Love had its American release on Halloween, given that there's no hell worse than love gone bad. And like the most relentless horror movie, Love's spooky realism is often unwatchable in the best possible way.
But at this point, nobody familiar with Noé doubts his capacity to shock and unsettle. What's most surprising about his new film is his apparent capacity for romance. We've seen this side of him before in small doses in Enter The Void and even Irreversible. But where the tenderness of Irreversible is tainted by its overwhelming tragedy, though Love too establishes its grim ending early in the film, Noé accomplishes a sweetness so heartwarming it mutes the connotations of the film's pornography.
By succeeding in this respect, the traumas of Noé's journey hit home as relatable anguish. Compared to the existentially random rape of Irreversible and transcendent death of Enter The Void, the subject may feel pedestrian, but as anyone in love's throes can attest, it is anything but commonplace. Thanks to Gaspar Noé's undiluted sense of nakedness, a theme sterilized by Hollywood has finally been stripped of its romance and given the raw, soiled approach it demands.
ScreenAnarchy: I understand that you've had this one in the back of your brain for a while now.
Gaspar Noé: I would say after finishing my first feature, I Stand Alone, I wanted to do Enter The Void. The movie was postponed. The people were concerned, because I Stand Alone was a small movie, and I didn't have a success that would make me believable to the eyes of financiers. I spent a lot of time trying to sort out Enter The Void without success. I wrote, at that time, a short treatment for (Love), that I proposed to Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci and they said yes to an erotic melodrama.
We found the money, through Canal Plus, because they were the magic couple of French cinema. When they read the treatment they got scared, so they said no. We used that money, and the fact that they were free that summer, and I was free to do Irreversible. Irreversible was a commercial success. After a few years it permitted me to do Enter The Void. When I finished Enter The Void, I thought, oh, I really liked that project that I had fifteen years ago, why wouldn't I do it now? I ended up doing it also in 3D, which I never before thought of doing.
Maybe, also, because two years ago my mother died. It was my first encounter with death, and the movie that I shot last summer ended up being far more melancholic than the original project. There is a sense of loss in the movie that is very palpable.
Why do you think Cassel and Bellucci were too shy for Love, when Irreversible is such a heavy film?
Oh, no, no, no, they're not shy at all. They were so famous at the time that they were the obsession of many fans, and also of stalkers, and the last thing that you have left when you're a public figure is your intimacy, and you don't want to show that intimacy knowing how heavy it is to deal with your celebrity. They both said, "Oh, you have to do this movie one day. We can't help you, but we like it. We don't want to put our intimacy on screen."
I see. I find it interesting that Love was conceived in and around the time of Irreversible, because, and I could be mistaken, but there seems to be some narrative parallels. They're both reverse linear.
The three movies influence each other. I would say the first one that I wrote was Enter The Void. Then I wrote Love, and then I almost improvised the three pages of Irreversible that became a feature film, but Enter The Void was a 100 page script. This one was five pages at the time. When I started shooting last summer it was seven pages and Irreversible was three pages.
I like writing concepts or ideas in which you put all the scenes that you want to shoot, but I enjoy a lot improvising the data with the actors on set. To me, they invent everything. I'm not inventing everything. It's just like you go to the set and you say, "Well, let's make this scene work. Let's try all the scenes we can think of that would fit the scene," and then the editing team will decide which of the different versions to keep.
Interesting, so would you mind elaborating on that process? How do you flesh out an entire film during production?
You know, because you have the structure and you know which kind of locations you need. You know which kind of people you want to put in front of the camera, then also, in my case, I feel more confident by not pre-deciding scenes before being on the set. Sometimes you know lines that you want to put in the movie, but you have them in your head and the day of the shooting say, "Oh, can you say these?". The whole dialogue process will seem fresher if it happens on the set.
Every movie I have great reviews and awful reviews. It's happened to me since my first movie. Half of the press in Cannes hates the movie and half of the press loves it. The reasons why people hate a movie are always different. In this case, I got a lot of, 'oh well the dialogue doesn't seem to be written. Because you can tell when the dialogue has been written. You can also tell when people are acting and repeating words. In this case, they were using their own words.
Do you find that there's a difference in playing to North American audiences versus European audiences?
In France, I think the movie is much more direct because you're not reading the subtitles. Here, people were laughing a lot less.
It's clear that you are setting out to make an honest film about love without censoring any detail of what that can often entail. In the set design, specifically the posters on Murphy's wall, you seem to be nodding to other films with a similar intention. There's Salo, the Paul Morrissey film...
It's not exactly to Paul Morrissey, it was to the 3D movie. Flesh For Frankenstein. I would say that's my favorite movie, I think.
What other films do you think came closest to the mark of being an honest film about love?
The last one that made me cry was Blue Is The Warmest Color. You know which one is very desperate, but also deals with drugs? Christiane F., the German movie. It's about a young girl falling for a junkie male prostitute, so she starts prostituting herself just to be close to him, but it's a love story.
Blue Is The Warmest Color, because it deals with two girls who fall in love with each other. It does not deal with issues like pregnancy, building a family, so there's an additional layer in this film, that was missing in that one. There's the fact that in that movie the girls have to hide their sexuality from their parents, but this one... It's more universal because I think there are more straight people in this world than those who are not.
The pregnancy strikes me as the irreversible action a little bit.
Yes, it is.
One of my favorite themes in the film is the discussion around American possessiveness as violence. I'm wondering are Electra's opinions on that matter your opinion? Do you think bigamy is possible when love is in the picture?
I don't think monogamy is in the genetic code of any animal. It's not in humans more than in reptiles or ducks, but it's a social product that you learn as a kid or as an old person. What was the question?
I suppose, do you think Murphy is un-evolved in reacting the way he does when he's watching Electra have sex with someone else?
The thing about possessiveness... I did not write that scene. It was an improv of Vincent Maraval, who produced Enter The Void. He also made this movie happen. He found all the co-producers. He co-produced the movie. He is my best production partner and the best one I could dream of as a director. A great friend also. I wanted to put him in the movie, so I put him there and he's a very sweet husband, but in the movie he plays this sleazy cop and he improvised all that dialogue.
He made three improvs in ten minutes, and he's so good for selling movies. He's good also for convincing a man to bring his girlfriend to a swingers club. Actually you can tell he only wants to fuck the boy's girlfriend, but he convinces the guy that he's living in the land of freedom and has to enjoy the French way of life. Poor little Murphy falls in the trap and goes to the swinger's club.
Yeah, it's very hard to watch. I'm not about to ask you if the film is autobiographical or anything like that, but I do think you're sort of poking fun at the notion of autobiography, with things like naming the kid Gaspar.
The thing that went into the movie that I could really relate to, and then people go, "He's got his life." is that I know those situations, and there are a few situations that are not absolutely personal, but that I've experienced with friends, like having an incidental kid. I have close friends, ones who went through that, and it really changes your life in an irreversible way. That's the breaking point of the whole movie. That particular scene - that is the essence of the story. I haven't experienced that growing up.
I just want to, let's say, to do an honest movie on a central subject, which is being in love and how much it is not a safe place to be. When you're falling in love, you're obsessed with the object of your desire and you want to possess it. You want to hug it. You want to kiss it. You want to be with it all the time, and at a point, you become blind to the rest of the world and you lose intelligence.
Usually, it makes you kind of stupid, crazy stupid, and also If you really get addicted to this other person, then you're so afraid of losing the person that you also turn jealous, so you can become ugly and do ugly things out of jealousy. It's a whole mental process that is like a battlefield. It's not a safe place and people suffer when they break up, if they were in love. Also, you're relieved, because you feel like you can go back to real life, to a normal life. It's an altered state.
That being said, do you think a complete attempt to define love would have to incorporate feelings of jealousy and bitterness?
The thing is that love is a word that includes all kinds of things from life. It's a huge word that contains all kind of images and senses. One thing is loving your friends, your parents, your brood, or your mate, but there are things about falling in love or being in love with someone that you should have a different word for it. It's linked to it, but you can be mad enough for a person that you're obsessed and the moment that couple breaks up, that story breaks up.
You suddenly realize that you never liked the person, but while you were in it, you were madly in love. I think likable people are lovable people and likable people are people you can be madly in love with. They call it romantic love, but there's nothing romantic in being loved ... There are things that are romantic, but also there are things that are totally reptilian in that. When you're jealous, you can say the most horrible things to the person you're supposed to protect, just because you're in an altered state of mind.