Ejaculation and Sentimental Sex? Inside Gasper Noe's Explicit Drama 'Love' (Q&A)

Gasper Noe AFM H 2015
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Gasper Noe AFM H 2015

The controversial helmer discusses his explicit new release, why he refuses to edit the film and why "we're all sex junkies."

A man who proudly wears the mantle of cinema's L’Enfant terrible, Argentine French director Gaspar Noe has been dividing and enraging audiences and critics from the start. But while his previous movies have shocked with graphic, at times almost unwatchable, violence (few have sat through the brutal anal rape scene in Noe's Irreversible and emerged unscathed), in Love, Noe's latest, its sex, lots and lots and lots of sex, that is causing the scandal.

The 3D drama, looks at the erotic relationship between an American ex-pat (Karl Glusman), his current partner Omi (Klara Kristin). And his ex-girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock). The many explicit scenes are given extra oomph by Noe's use of 3D, including a straight-to-camera close up of an ejaculating penis.

Ahead of Alchemy's U.S. premiere of Love in Los Angeles, Noe spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about real vs. simulated cinema sex, showing Love to his father and why he thinks porn is "science fiction."

Since we are going to be mainly talking about sex through this interview, what are your favorite sex scenes in cinema?

I really like the scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now. While watching Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls, I thought Elizabeth Berkley was the sexiest woman in the world. I was obsessed with Sylvia Kristel in [legendary French soft porn series] Emmanuelle.

There are many movies that contain what people call explicit genuine sex scenes and ones that show simulated sex. Both can be exciting. What's important isn't whether its real sex or simulated but what emotion it transports. And I don't think there are so many movies that transport sex as a real passion.

Typically in a film, when the scene starts turning sexual the scene ends and you go to the next morning. Or in sex movies, adult movies, in which are all about sex, there are no feelings involved. Regular sex, regular loving sex is rarely on screen. Maybe one day I will be excited about doing an adult movie — a movie made to arouse people. I don't think this movie is made to arouse anybody or to arouse them in an emotional way. This isn't an erotic film. It's more sentimental.

There's been a lot of discussion about how much of the sex in Love is real and how much was simulated.

I don't want to go into detail there because I thought it was disappointing with (Abdellatif Kechiche's 2013 Cannes winner) Blue is the Warmest Color, the actresses said the sex was simulated. Why did they have to say they weren't lesbians? The same thing for Nymphomaniac — why did they have to say they actors didn't really have sex? Maybe to protect the actors' careers. But it spoils the mystery, the illusion. You are doing a movie so of course everything can be faked. The most important thing was not how we did it — simulated or real — but how it would be received. The moment that you show something that looks real, it will have an affect. It doesn't matter what spice you use to cook the food; if, in the end, it's spicy, [it] will have an effect.

Was it difficult to convince the actors to bare all for the film?

Not really. Klara initially didn't want to do it, but that was because she wasn't an actress and was unsure. Of course it is easier for a man to show his dick on screen than for a woman to appear naked, not because there is a difference but because we are in a male-dominated world and men are more disrespectful to woman than woman are to men, so showing the penis, erect or not, is much easier. All of my male French friends wanted to be in the movie (one, Vincent Maraval, of Love production shingle Wild Bunch does make an appearance, as a kinky cop who "likes to watch.")

How did you choreograph the sex scenes with your actors?

I didn't. We shot the movie very quickly — in five weeks. We shot all the nude scenes the first week with a very small crew. We didn't even rehearse before — the actors had never even kissed each other before we started. I didn't want to shoot the nude scenes over and over again, so for all the nude scenes, we had two camera positions for each scene so we had editing options. But there is nothing that we shot that didn't seem natural when we were doing it. I didn't give them directions. 

I never got aroused during those scenes, never got excited. I got more excited shooting fight scenes in my previous movies, maybe because I haven't been in a fight myself. No one got their face smashed in by a fire extinguisher in Irreversible, but it looks real and I thought, "This is a fight I wish I could see in real life.  "

You showed this movie to your father. What was his reaction?

He said, "You went too far." And he asked, "Was that dick that ejaculated into the camera yours?" And I said, "No, Dad, that wasn't my dick."

Do you think it is more difficult to show a penis onscreen than extreme violence like you showed in Irreversible?

Tell me, how many dicks you have seen, for more than 1-2 seconds, in an American movie in the last 30 years? You ask people and they say the end of Boogie Nights, you have a one-second shot of the penis. And in Bad Lieutenant, you can see the non-erect penis of Harvey Keitel. That's all. You have ten thousand movies every year since. Why is that precise part of the body is so taboo? The world we live in is far more conservative than we think.

Is that the case both in Europe and the U.S.?

You see more male nudity in European movies. But it seems to be a global thing — that male nudity is a taboo. Sex scenes typically in movies are not a problem so long as the male genitals are not shown. We live in a very patriarchal society run, mainly by heterosexual men who don't want to see some other guy's penis onscreen and who don't want to bring their girlfriend to a movie where she might see another guy's dick.

Was that a concern when you were looking for U.S. distribution for the film?

I just told my financiers and sales agent — if anyone wants to cut one frame of the movie, don't sell or give it for free to someone who will release it uncut. I don't see what there is that should be censored in this movie. I'm happy in American there is this intelligent law that you can release movies unrated. All my movies were released unrated here. I was very surprised that in some countries I got a higher rating for this movie, that is sweet, than Irreversible, that is a very violent movie.

Irreversible was released widely in Russia and this movie was banned in Russia.

Russia nowadays is a very patriarchal society and maybe they don't want woman to see the erect penis of a young American film student living in Paris, having sex.

What's the point of an explicit film like Love in this day-and-age, when hard-corn porn is everywhere online?

It's true. It's the Wild West now. But it's very weird that the nowadays world has disconnected the part of the human experience that is pretty — sex — and put it in a closet. If you want to see those images, they do not show at all what is sweet about them in real life. In an adult video, people never kiss. Girls never have cramps. They never have periods. Half of them have fake boobs. It's a separate world — like science fiction. It doesn't exist. Adult videos show a world that is disconnected with the universal experience of what love and sex is.

There have only been a few films that deal explicitly with sex in a serious way, like Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac and Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs. Why are they so rare?

People who have succeeded as actors, most of them are afraid of losing their position. Maybe they fear they will be called a porn actor or sleazy. Or they are afraid people in the audience will think it is real. When I shot the rape scene in Irreversible, in the editing I wanted to add a digital dick of the rapist so it seems more real, and for five seconds, you see the erect dick of the rapist, but it was all added digitally. But I asked permission of both Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel. And I know it is easier if I say, "That scene is simulated and the dick is digital, but on the other hand you are breaking the illusion."

I think sex is still dangerous because we know we are all sex junkies, we are all love junkies. Even the President, the most powerful man in the world, his wife might see a guy onscreen with a nice penis and maybe his woman will want to go and f— that guy. So that hierarchy falls to pieces with sex.