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Gaspar Noé: Love polarizes

INTERVIEW: With his latest, LOVE (opening Nov 26), attracting cheers and boos in equal proportion, we spoke with the Argentinian director about sex in cinema and the reactions it provokes around the world.

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Controversy has always followed Gaspar Noé. His films have featured incest, rape and drug use; now, his recent film sees the Argentinian provocateur tackle the topic of love and sex, all in 3D. We meet the director and discuss why Love is polarizing audiences and how coitus can prove contentious.

Your latest film is about to come out in Germany and already seems to have polarized viewers in other countries. How have you perceived the reactions?

The movie was first shown in Cannes and as always with my films, half of the press enjoyed the movie and the other half disliked it. However, I didn’t expect this film to create such hate. I think people expected Love to be some sort of erotic Cannibal Holocaust because of my reputation and they got something else. Mostly, I didn’t expect that the most positive reactions would be from women.

In what way?

The central female character in the film, Electra, is stronger, more complex, more mature than the male character, who is a kind of loser. I don’t know if it’s because the film reaffirms the vision that guys are losers and follow their dicks, but women seem to have liked the film more than men. Many male critics have complained that the male character is a jerk, but for me, he’s like a younger brother. I think many critics hated the film because heterosexual men have a problem: they feel in competition with other guys’ penises and in Love, you see this guy having fun with all these pretty girls: you’re not thinking with your brain anymore, you’re thinking with your penis.

You’re suggesting that there is some sort of competition between male viewers and the guy on screen?

Yes. The most hateful reactions have been mostly coming from male critics. They have trashed the main actor, Karl Glusman. I think he’s good and that they don’t like seeing that sort of man onscreen: a guy you could know and one you’re in competition with.

Have there been any attempts to censor the film?

No, but there have been outcries. Puritanical America is not used to so much nudity on a big screen. They show guns in one movie out of two but the moment they see a penis, erect or not, then it’s like seeing the face of the devil. In some countries, Love came out on VOD the same day it was released, so any kid who is nine or twelve can press a button and get it. It has become stupid to say that a film is rated for 18-year-olds because there’s no censorship when it comes to the internet.

The film has been banned in Russia, hasn’t it?

Yes. For reasons beyond my understanding, besides the fact it’s the most patriarchal society in the Western world, Russia decided the movie should not be shown because there’s too much sex and because there are homosexual scenes. One government spokesperson said it was as dangerous as Mein Kampf. Bizarre, since Irreversible was shown there and it was a commercial success. It seems that the representation of sex and images of love seem to be a more dangerous subject than killing, torture or brainwashing. Sex should be positive and the penis and the pussy should be seen as life-affirming forces, not tools of domination that should be hidden. Something I didn’t expect with this movie is that after releasing it, I perceived the Western world in which I live in a different way.

In what way?

I was raised in the late 1960s-70s and sex then was a good thing. Even in my life, if I have to remember my best moments, many of them are having sex with someone I was madly in love with. Now, society tries to show you the dark side; the twist is that the internet is far worse. You can get anything on there, from real murders to cannibal acts. I am happy that I grew up with the James Bond movies and the girls in Playboy magazine who were all natural, fleshy, with pubic hair. Nowadays, the only images you have of femininity are the videos you find on YouPorn in which the girls are all redone. Magazines today sell the image of human beauty as an anorexic Barbie doll.

Why did you decide to shoot this film, of all your films, in 3D?

Because I thought it would create a more real and sometimes more surreal mood. For me, it adds a degree of intimacy: you feel like you are a fly on the wall. Enter the Void would have been good in 3D but it was shot before Avatar and the 3D cameras were 10 times heavier then.

Would you say that Love is your most autobiographical film to date?

It’s personal, yes. I put in names in Love that were linked to my life: my mother’s maiden name is Murphy, like the lead character; the girl Murphy fucks in the toilet is called Paula and that’s my sister’s name… I wanted to do a real film about a young couple who fall in love and destroy their relationship. I have been through situations that have been very similar and some things in the film happened to me and to some friends of mine. I’m just putting on stage the world I know.

Love opens in Berlin cinemas on November 26. Check our OV search engine for showtimes.