WHEN Gaspar Noé’s Love premiered in Cannes last May the film’s mostly unsimulated sex, all filmed in graphic 3D, had journalists reaching for their laptops.
Cannes topper Thierry Frémaux had naturally been keen to program the film after the festival’s 2013 explicit lesbian drama, Blue is the Warmest Colour, had been a last-minute sensation, coming out of nowhere to win the coveted Palme d’Or.
Noe had to spend 20-hour days poring over his naked images in order to have the film ready. Ultimately his 3D ejaculation scene became the most talked about scene at the festival.
A Cannes regular, the Argentina-born French director loves to shock, though in the past he had dealt more with violence.
He’d made his name with 1998’s I Stand Alone about a disturbed butcher who had been abused by priests in his childhood, while his ensuing rape drama, Irreversible, must be one of the most confronting films ever made.
Interestingly, Love had been in the works long before Irreversible and Noé had wanted the then happily married couple, current Bond woman Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, to star.
They had demurred on the explicit sex, yet violent French films (including their pairing in Jan Kounen’s ultra-violent thriller Dobermann) didn’t pose such a threat.
Noé would go on to make the less successful drug-drenched melo-drama, Enter The Void, all the while knowing it would be Love that would again capture the audience’s attention. Yet it took some time to fund.
Eventually realising that stars wouldn’t be up for it, he found Karl Glusman, an American actor from the Bronx, and managed to convince two French women Aomi Muyock and Klara Kristin to participate.
“The good thing about this movie is all the people I proposed to be on-screen knew my previous movies and knew we were doing something valuable, a real movie about a real subject — love — and not something dirty,” Noé says.
Even so, the nudity is surely confronting?
“Almost every [male] actor I approached about doing the specific scenes was happy to do it,” Noé admits. “Men have no issues especially about showing their penis erect.”
The casting process must have been interesting?
“I didn’t ask Karl to show me but I knew a girl who slept with him and she said he is ‘gifted’.”
Glusman, who has a minor part in Roland Emmerich’s upcoming gay drama Stonewall, was thrown in at the deep end.
“Gaspar had decided to start with a close up of my genitals,” he recalls of the first day of shooting.
“I was in the bathroom thinking I should run to the airport and go back to the States.”
Glusman said he quickly got used to a minimum of six people staring at his private parts.
Noé’s stance has long been that he doesn’t want audiences to know which bits are for real.
“We don’t want to promote what is what. I remember it being a talking point with Blue is the Warmest Colour.”
Though he will say the ejaculation scene was 70% as it happened and that he added one additional spray squarely aimed at audiences.
“It’s more like a joke rather than creating a scandal. I wanted to have fun, to play with the audience.”
Ahh, the French. And yes, he says the sex club is real.
“The extras were mostly porn actors. In Paris there are many.”
Though Noé didn’t want to cast porn actors in Love, which he insists is not a porn film.
“In what you call ‘adult movies’ there are no feelings at all. You never see people kissing or talking about pregnancy. You never see any girl having her periods and you never see a girl with regular pubic hair. It’s like a separate world that has nothing to do with normal life.
“What I wanted to do is represent in cinema something that’s important for me that for commercial reasons isn’t represented properly. The system of cinema rating is totally old- fashioned.”
So why do adults want movies without realistic sex?
“It’s the whole structure of power,” he says.
“In most societies whether they’re western or not, people want to control the sexual behaviour or to organise it in a precise context. Sex is like a danger zone. Sometimes class barriers fall down and it scares a lot of people. It’s about states controlling their systems, like religion.”
As with Nymphomaniac, by another cinematic renegade, Lars von Trier, Love isn’t as titillating as it might seem.
After a while as Glusman suggests, the sex becomes fairly matter of fact.
He plays Murphy, a self-obsessed filmmaker, who is in a happy relationship with Electra (Muyock) until a night of lust with his neighbour Omi (Kristin) and a broken condom leads to a pregnancy.
Murphy (the maiden name of Noé’s mother Nora, born in Argentina to an Irish émigré father) becomes a dad and the woman he loves is gone.
Still he never forgets her and withers away in a small Parisian apartment, drowning in the memories of his lustier times involving threesomes, those Paris sex clubs, and encounters with transvestite prostitutes.
He is, as the late great Robert Palmer once put it, addicted to love.
“Most people have experienced that addiction at different levels,” says Noé.
“Sometimes the addiction is more self-destructive, sometimes less. There is something in the chemicals when we’re in love that really drives us crazy. The movie shows that love is not only a land of pleasure and joy, but also a land of war and fear.”
Of course powerful or famous people are highly susceptible, as well as directors like Murphy and Noé.
“The character is not myself but he’s partly me and partly all these other guys I was hanging out with when I was in film school. You can see that Murphy really likes cinema with all the posters in his room; maybe he’s working as a second assistant director on a TV show. In any case the guy’s full of himself. The movie is about the failure of our success.”
Being a film director is a powerful and seductive job, he says.
“It’s the only job where you can stop a girl in the street and get her number in one second. David Lynch says it gives you entry into worlds you cannot get into otherwise and it’s true that being a director opens a lot of doors. It’s weird how people care about being in movies. If you do a mafia film you call the mafia guy and he’s going to tell you all his secret stories.”
And, at 51, Noé says he still likes going to night clubs. Still a bad boy indeed.