CANNES, France: This year’s Cannes Film Festival got its first taste of full-blown controversy on Thursday after a late-night screening of an Argentine director’s hyper-sexual 3D movie, “Love”.
The picture leaves nothing to the imagination as it tells the story of a young couple’s tempestuous love affair, featuring over a dozen extremely graphic unsimulated sex scenes, including close-up ejaculations, orgies, a threesome and a transvestite prostitute.
The posters had already given “Love” plenty of notoriety ahead of its premiere on the French Riviera, with one featuring a penis post-climax.
The crowds trying to gain entry for the midnight screening were so large that dozens of ticket-holders had to be turned away and arguments broke out outside the Grand Palais theatre.
“For years, I have dreamed of making a film that would fully reproduce the passion of a young couple in love, in all its physical and emotional excesses,” Paris-based director Gaspar Noe said in a statement ahead of the screening.
Some of the audience gave a standing ovation at the end of the film. But many critics seemed unconvinced by Noe’s “blood, sperm and tears” vision.
“Like bad sex, (it) seems to go on forever with no climax or ending in sight,” tweeted Sophie Kaufman, of Little White Lies movie magazine.
Noe, who learnt filmmaking in France and lives there, said he wanted to transcend “the ridiculous division that dictates no normal film can contain overtly erotic scenes, even though everyone loves to make love”.
The story follows a young American man in Paris, Murphy, looking back on his lost love, Electra, and their time together.
Noe puts himself at the center of the story — the lead character is a budding filmmaker who talks about wanting to make an explicit film about love and sex. Two of the side characters in the film are even called Gaspar and Noe, the latter played by the director himself, wearing a wig.
3D has been used for hardcore pornography before, but this is thought to be the first time it has been used for sex scenes in an arthouse film.
“I felt that 3D would allow the viewer a greater sense of identification with the lead character and his nostalgic state,” Noe said.
Noe is no stranger to controversy. In 2002, a screening of his film “Irreversible” at Cannes led to several ambulances being called for audience members who could not cope with its in-your-face rape scene.
With his latest movie, the director said in the statement much of the credit went to his cast.
“More than in my previous films I owe the result to the daring and trust of the actors… who joyfully agreed to play the three main roles,” he said.
Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux introduced the screening and the three unknown stars by saying the audience “will know them very, very well in two hours”.
“Love” got a largely negative response from critics on Twitter.
“Just Gaspar Noe badly sketching a souring relationship. And the sex scenes get boring after a while,” wrote Isabel Stevens, of Sight and Sound magazine, on Twitter.
BBC film critic Jason Solomons said it “was definitely not a porn film — the dialogue’s not up to that level”.
Variety gave a more nuanced critique, saying “you’ve gotta hand it to Noe for leaving no taboo unturned, and for putting so much of himself into a film that’s bound to leave titillation seekers resenting its creator during the long stretches of wallowing introspection between climaxes.”
Fremaux jumped to Noe’s defense at a press conference, saying “the last thing to do at Cannes is read the critics”.
“Gaspar Noe has made a film that some love and some hate. Literature and painting visit the question of the representation of the body, of sex, of physical love, but very few filmmakers have done so in 120 years of the history of cinema,” said Fremaux.