This movie starts off simply enough with an elderly couple outside of their apartment in northeast Paris, having what looks like lunch and some wine as they are enjoying the long life they have had together. The wife then asks her husband, “is life a dream?” He responds, “life is a dream within a dream.” Seeing these two together in such a simple setting spoke to me of a couple who have lived what looks like a very successful life. It also proves to be the happiest scene this movie has to offer.
“Vortex” is the latest piece of cinema from Gaspar Noe, a filmmaker I very much admire and have no problem nor hesitation in defending. This particular movie is his most mature one to date, but do not for one second think he has lost a single ounce of his audaciousness here. With “Vortex,” he takes us on a cinematic journey which I can best describe as being unflinching as we follow this couple as their mental and physical health are on a permanent downward slope. Gaspar begins this movie with a dedication which states: “To all those whose brains will decompose before their hearts.” This is then followed by Françoise Hardy singing “Mon Amie La Rose,” a song about going from life to death. Suffice to say, you know from there that this movie will not have a happy ending, and there is no music score from Thomas Bangalter to elevate us out of the bleakness on display.
With “Vortex,” Gaspar goes out of his way to utilize the split screen approach, which Brian DePalma used to great effect in his movies, and a line is slowly drawn down between these two characters to where their existence together will never be the same. They go about their daily activities in what seems like the usual mundane way as the husband works on a book he calls “Psyche” which deals with movies and dreams, and the wife goes shopping at local stores near Stalingrad Station where they live. But as she travels through the aisles of one store, we see on her face how lost she is to where it quickly become clear she has no idea where she is at. Keep in mind, this is just the start of the story. We have yet to see how truly bad things will get.
As for the husband, the work on his book is constantly being undermined by his wife’s deteriorating condition which shows itself in the most horrifying of ways. In addition, he is suffering health problems of his own as his heart condition has him checking his blood pressure every other day. Their only hope is the help they get from their son, Stéphane (Alex Lutz, playing one of the few characters here with an actual name), but he can only deal with so much as he has problems of his own which includes raising his son, Kiki (Kylian Dheret), and recovering from his mental breakdown and a drug addiction which threatens to overtake him in the face of inevitable mortality.
We know Dario Argento best for being one of the best horror filmmakers ever which such classics as “Suspiria,” “Deep Red” and “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” among others. As for Françoise Lebrun, she is a highly acclaimed French actress who has appeared in a plethora of movies, most notably in Jean Eustache’s “The Mother and the Whore.” Together, these two do not act their roles as much as they inhabit them. With the split screen setup, this makes perfect sense as every single moment in this couple’s time together counts for everything. Even the most mundane of details carries a lot of meaning as these two experience a deterioration neither is prepared to accept or fully deal with.
I also have to give Alex Lutz a lot of credit as well. Not only does he inhabit his role alongside Argento and Lebrun, but he never overacts in the slightest as his character of Stéphane has to carry the weight of his parents’ mental and physical demise all on his shoulders, and anyone who has been through a similar situation can certainly relate. Still, the scene where he relapses without even knowing his son is watching him freebase proves to be quite devastating.
With “Vortex,” Gaspar is not out to pass judgment on these two characters or those around them. Instead, he makes us follow them are inevitable journey to death which we know is coming. Is it cruel of him to do this? No, not really as we have a certain denial when it comes to the finality of life. We know it is coming, but who is prepared to deal with it? While we say we will be there for our loved ones when they breathe their final breath, who exactly looks forward to that?
Watching this movie, I was reminded of some dialogue from one my favorite television shows, let alone one of my favorite HBO shows, “Oz:”
“Let me tell you, dying is a lot harder on the living than it is on the dead. Death really only hurts those left behind.”
“Do we care for people when they’re sick because we actually care about them? Or do we care for them because when our time comes, we want someone to care for us?”
“The state’s attitude to the elderly, any elderly, in or out of prison is… hurry up and die.”
With “Vortex,” Gaspar is not out to suggest any course of action, but to instead offer us an unflinching look at a couple’s last moments before they expire. Even if I felt the urge, I could never look away from the screen as these two individuals breathed their last breaths. Now while it might sound like I am spoiling this film for you, I am not. Some films you watch to enjoy, and others are meant to be experienced. “Vortex,” like all of Gaspar’s films, is meant to be experienced more than anything else, and I applaud it for that.
I would also like to add how “Vortex” makes me want to look at my parents and tell them the following:
“If you ever get dementia, I will kill you. You understand?”
Filmmaker Lars Von Trier was once quoted as saying the following:
“A film should be like a rock in the shoe.”
That is certainly the case with “Vortex.” This is not the first Gaspar Noe film to give you this feeling, and it certainly will not be the last.
I have been a big fan of Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noe ever since I first watched his highly controversial 2002 thriller “Irreversible.” Starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel, it was a rape revenge film told in reverse order like Christopher Nolan’s “Memento,” and it featured, among other things, a rape scene done in one shot which lasted nine minutes, and another in which a man’s head is completely bashed in with a fire extinguisher. Many were quick to walk out of this film as they felt it promoted violence, but I can tell you few others are as anti-violent, anti-rape and anti-revenge as this one is. Moreover, it features scenes of sheer intimacy and thoughtfulness which some critics were not quick to see at first glance. Noe invites you to look beneath the surface, if you can, and see there is more to what meets the eye.
The same also goes with Noe’s other works which include “I Stand Alone,” “Enter the Void,” “Climax” and “Vortex” as he examines various issues with a thoughtfulness that often eludes his harshest critics. There is more to this director than simply shocking his audience, and he gives a lot of unforgettably surreal imagery with the help of acclaimed Belgian cinematographer Benoît Debie who can light a scene ever so beautifully. His movies do not exist just to leave a permanent psychological scar on you. They leave you with a cinematic experience few other filmmakers could ever possibly give an audience, and I am always thankful for such motion pictures.
So, it was quite an honor to interview Noe back in 2016 when he was doing press for “Love” which he shot in 3D. The movie stars Karl Glusman as Murphy, an American student studying movies in Paris alongside his girlfriend, Electra (Aomi Muyock), whom he is having quite the sexual relationship with. The on one day, they come across a Danish teenager named Omi (Klara Kristin) with whom they engage in a threesome, but from there relationships take some truly powerfully emotional turns to where what was once found may forever be lost.
“Love” is, and will probably always be best known for its scenes featuring unsimulated sex, but for me this movie deals more with the emotions of love which lift us up to delirious heights, and also bring us down to such rock bottom lows we may find impossible to climb out of. Noe and I talked about these themes and other things during our time together, and he made it clear how this film should in no way be considered a porno.
Indeed, when it comes to the average filmgoer of any nation or ethnicity, I fear they will react in the following manner:
“Oh no, it’s a penis. A big hulking phallus. GET IT AWAY FROM ME! GET IT… oh wait, it’s just an AK-47. Whew! Thank goodness. I was worried for a second.”
WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2010.
Gaspar Noe’s “Enter the Void,” his first feature length film since the highly controversial “Irreversible,” is one of the craziest and hypnotic cinematic experiences I have ever sat through. A hallucinogenic kaleidoscope of colors, some of which looked like they were taken from Dario Argento’s “Suspiria,” it’s a surreal out of body experience and the kind you do not see today in American cinema today. In a time of soulless remakes and films which shamelessly manipulate our emotions, this is a one of kind motion picture as it breaks boundaries to create something unlike anything we have seen before. Like Noe’s previous films, it is destined to have sharply polarized reactions. Some will admire it, and others will find it excruciating to sit through. As for myself, I was mesmerized from beginning to end, thankful I got to take in something not bound by your typical Hollywood formula.
Straight after the IFC Films logo appears, Noe propels us into this visionary experience by beginning with the end credits, just as he did with “Irreversible,” racing through them at warp speed. Watching this, I was reminded of what Homer Simpson said during the end credits of “The Simpsons Movie:”
“A lot of people worked hard on this film, and all they ask is for you to memorize their names!”
Then the movie goes from there into the opening titles which themselves are exhilaratingly creative and makes you feel like you’re at a rave party in Tokyo. Crazy visuals done to the song “Freak” by LFO, they alone were worth the price of admission and got applause from the audience I saw it with at the Lamelle Sunset 5 in Los Angeles.
The word “enter” gets blasted onto the screen, and we then make it to the seamier side of Tokyo as seen through the eyes of the main character, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown). Just like in the opening sequence of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days,” we see everything from his perspective as he talks with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) who lives with him in a small apartment, and as he smokes some Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) which provides him with the ultimate high, filled with amazingly beautiful colors. During this time, we see Oscar is reading a book his friend Alex (Cyril Roy) gave him called the “Tibetan Book of the Dead.” Alex describes the book as one person’s experience after death, and of how it eventually leads to rebirth. From there, you get a good idea of where “Enter the Void” is going as Oscar later gets shot dead by police while attempting to flush his drugs down the toilet.
At this point, “Enter the Void” becomes a literal out of body experience as Oscar dies and his soul, no longer caged in its human form, rises from his lifeless body. From there, he floats through the darker sections of Tokyo as he watches over his sister as she moves on with life, devastated she can no longer spend it with her dear brother. Throughout, Noe goes back and forth in time as we come to see the connection Oscar and Linda developed in their youth, and how their promise of always being together is strong even as tragedy threatens to tear them apart.
Many will probably see “Enter the Void” as being a pro-drug movie, but I will leave this up to you, the viewer to decide. This is a movie meant for an adult crowd anyway, not for pre-teens. With drug trips, or so I am told, you are lifted high into a state of euphoria which seems untouchable in our everyday lives, but you are also brought down to emotionally shattering lows you will be desperate to look away from, but you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from what you will soon wish you’d forget. Your mind may be freed up in this state, but don’t ever expect to have any control.
Look, I’m not saying drugs are right, but if we’re not taking something illegal and very dangerous, then we are probably relying on something pharmaceutical. Anyway, this is not a movie to get all political about.
When the movie veers into Oscar’s youth, we get to see the close relationship he and his sister have with their ever-loving parents, and the times we see them together are very sweet and captured with a strong sense of innocence. But this later turns out to be a setup for when the parents are killed in horrific fashion after a truck going in the wrong direction smashes into their car, killing them instantly. It’s impossible not to feel the shattered emotions of the children as their lives are irrevocably altered in ways which rob them of a childhood they deserved to have.
Noe does manage to counter many of the disturbing moments of the movie with scenes of innocence and sweetness, and this is an aspect of his filmmaking people don’t often give him credit for. In the midst of shocking scenes filmed in all their psychologically damaging glory, he does capture intimate moments between which I rarely seen in movies being released these days. This was even the case in “Irreversible” when we watched Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci frolicking with one another in their apartment, and the fact the two were married in real life at the time makes those scenes feel more emotionally honest as a result.
As with your typical Noe motion picture, “Enter the Void” is not the kind which can be easily recommended to those interested in mainstream fare. In fact, is as far from mainstream cinema as you can get these days, and those who are easily offended would do their best to keep a marathon-like distance away from it. There’s even a scene where we watch helplessly as Linda gets an abortion, and although I was afraid it would be a much harder to sit through than it was, it is bound shake up a lot of the audience members’ emotions.
The acting for the most part is good. Special praise goes to Paz de la Huerta whose character of Linda has to go through the film’s most viscerally emotional moments, and she portrays them without a hint of simply playing the emotion. I also liked Cyril Roy as Oscar’s mentor Alex and found him to be an enjoyable presence even in the film’s more damning moments of despair. But let’s be honest here, this is a director’s movie more than anything else, and it is easy to believe this was Noe’s dream project for years. It’s a movie for visual and sound designers to go nuts on, and they must have had a blast trying to bring the director’s own psychedelic visions to the silver screen.
At two and a half hours long, “Enter The Void” does get a bit tedious at times. When the movie ended and the lights came up, I heard one guy say, “So at what point did you fall asleep? For some, this movie will be a lot longer than it should. The only time I got a bit restless was during the hotel orgy scene which overstays its welcome after not too long. Noe uses this scene to make clear the difference of having sex and making love, but he spends far too much energy filming this moment instead of just cutting down to its bare essence. I started to feel like Sean Young at the DGA awards when she told “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” director Julian Schnabel to “get on with it.”
In spite of this, I was completely mesmerized by “Enter the Void” from start to finish as it took me on a cinematic journey far different than most I have sat through this past year. It will surely go down as one of the definitive love-it or hate-it movies of 2010, but I have no problem sticking up for what Noe has accomplished even if it became a bit overindulgent.
Personally, I’m glad we have directors like Gaspar Noe around because it feels like cinema worldwide is lacking filmmakers who take risks and challenge the conventional structure of your typical corporate product posing as a movie. We need more directors like him now because it has become increasingly understandable as to why many no longer go out to the movies like they once used to.
I will never forget when I first watched Terry Gilliam’s cinematic adaptation of “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” Seeing the main characters played by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro descend into a drug-fueled inferno proved to be one of the most insane and chaotic cinematic experiences I’ve ever had to where I felt like a hammer was constantly bashing at my head. I was in college at the time, and I described it to my friends as being one long acid-trip nightmare. One friend, her name Wendy, looked at me and said, “Oh yeah, like you would know!” This led to another person, Matthew, across the table laughing and responding, “Hey Wendy, he’s right.”
Seriously, you don’t need to have any experience with drugs of any kind to call “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” an acid-trip nightmare, and the same goes for “Climax,” the latest cinematic opus from Gaspar Noe. Like the majority of his films, it proves to be exhilarating, hypnotic and gloriously out of control as we watch a group of dancers try to get a hold of their sanity after they discover the sangria they have been drinking has been spiked with LSD. Whether or not you have had any experience with this drug, you will agree the trip these characters go on is not the least bit pleasant.
“Climax” takes us back to the winter of 1996 and opens with a series of audition tapes featuring dancers who are being considered for a French dance troupe being created by Selva (Sofia Boutella) and DJ Daddy (Kiddy Smile). Each dancer makes clear how intense their passion is for this particular artform and what they will do to make a career out of it. What’s interesting about this opening we are watching them on an old-style tube television which is surrounded by VHS tapes and books, all of which have influenced Noe’s filmmaking and personal beliefs. This includes such cinematic escapades like “Suspiria,” “Salo,” “Hara-Kiri” and “Possession,” and among the books are one by Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, famous for his ultra-negative views on life and humanity, “Junkie” by William S. Burroughs, “LSD Psychotherapy” by Stanislav Grof, and “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” (“We Children of Bahnhof Zoo”) by Christiane F. Seeing these materials around the TV set should make it clear that Noe is not about to play it safe for anybody.
Following this comes one of the most exhilarating dance sequences I have in a movie in a long time as we watch a five-minute-long scene in which characters perform with utter abandon as they contort their bodies in ways which amazed me to no end. As the camera swoops over the performers, we are sucked into their dance space to where I wanted to feel the passion they felt. Seeing this reminded me of when I first watched the music video to Madonna’s “Lucky Star” on MTV, back when they actually showed music videos, and of how I wanted to experience the same level of joy she was having.
Noe is up to his old tricks again as he starts “Climax” with the end credits first and then give us the opening credits about 45 minutes later. As for the title, it appears exactly where it should. It does take a while for things to get crazy as Noe takes his time introducing us to these dancers as they discuss the sexual conquests and/or the future they hope to have sooner rather than later. As this goes on, the techno music plays non-stop, and once you notice it slowing down all of a sudden, you know this shit is about to get real.
Once the characters begin to realize they are under the influence of a psychedelic substance they were not planning on ingesting before their performance, the movie becomes a slow descent into chaos, and I could not take my eyes off the screen for one second. Even as the events became more and more horrifically chaotic, I was sucked into the madness everyone was trapped in, and I had no idea of where the story was going. This kind of unpredictability is very rare in movies today.
It’s especially impressive to learn that “Climax” was shot in just 15 days and with a script only five pages long. Learning of this made me believe this film could have been an enormous mess were it in the hands of another filmmaker, but Noe gives this sheer chaos a structure even as the performers let themselves run wild with the material. Some will complain this movie has no real story or plot, but I am certain anyone who has taken LSD can assure us how most psychedelic trips do not come with a three-act structure.
Once again, Noe employs his and Harmony Korine’s favorite cinematographer, Benoît Debie, who gives us such striking and absorbing colors throughout. Whether the lighting is dark green or blindingly red, Debie captures the insane madness in all its visual beauty, and when the white of the snow appears it feels like such a relief. This makes me look forward to Korine’s upcoming movie “The Beach Bum” all the more as Debie is the cinematographer on it too.
Noe has gone on record in saying the production of “Climax” was the most peaceful he ever had as a director, and this is regardless of the movie’s content. Apparently, there were no arguments on set, and no drugs or alcohol were used by anyone during filming. The latter is worth pointing out as the cast does an excellent job of looking like they are being ravaged by a narcotic they didn’t plan on taking. They could have easily looked ridiculous to where the movie could have been laughable, but everyone looks to be on their game here.
The cast is made of both professional and non-professional actors, and the one who stands out the most is Sofia Boutella. The French-Algerian actress has long since made a name for herself with such memorable performances in “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Star Trek Beyond” and “Atomic Blonde,” and watching her here is mesmerizing as she takes her character of Selva from a place of sanity to the polar opposite of it. She could have easily fallen into the trap of emoting here, but she never does as she makes Selva’s helpless predicament all the more frightening as this trip she is forced to take offers no easy escape for her or anyone else.
“Climax” may not reach the nightmarish heights of “Requiem for a Dream,” but it stands out as one of Noe’s strongest efforts. It doesn’t reach of what I feel is his masterpiece, “Enter the Void,” but it is stronger than his last movie, “Love 3D” which many were quick to dismiss as just another porno flick (I disagree). I for one am glad such daring filmmakers are still working in a time where superhero movies continue to dominate everything in the cinematic landscape. We need at least one filmmaker to break the rules, and Noe is no doubt one of them.
Again, I don’t think you need any experience with psychedelic substances to realize “Climax” is one long acid-trip nightmare. While the late Steve Jobs found an amazing level of creativity after experimenting with LSD, I don’t think the characters here will be anywhere as lucky, assuming they survive.
As many will expect, Gaspar Noe’s film “Love” is full of nudity and sex, much of it unsimulated. However, it is also his most personal film as he explores the power love can have over people and how it can be mesmerizing and yet so painful at the same time. Karl Glusman stars as Murphy, a young film student who is in a deeply romantic and sexual relationship with Electra (Aomi Muyock). Then one day they invite another young woman, Omi (Klara Kristin), to their bed to fulfill a sexual fantasy, and soon after everything falls apart. Murphy ends up having sex with Omi which leads to an unplanned pregnancy, and Electra ends their relationship as a result. In the process of trying to get her back, Murphy reflects on the highs and lows of his time with Electra as he sinks into a deep depression.
I got to talk with Glusman over the phone about what it was like to work on “Love.” It marks his debut in a live-action film, and he has since been cast in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” and Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals.” Many have asked Glusman about what it was like to be fully naked throughout “Love,” but I was more interested in finding out what it was like for him to give such an emotionally naked performance. He also described in detail the way Noe makes his movies, and he shared his experience of working with Refn on “The Neon Demon.”
Ben Kenber: “Love” is a very hypnotic movie as most Gaspar Noe movies are. The thing I admired most about your performance is how it is more emotionally naked than physically naked, and that’s something I hope people will realize when they watch it. Just how emotionally taxing was the role of Murphy for you?
Karl Glusman: You are the first person to ask me that because the focus is always kind of on the flesh. It was tough. Gaspar liked to surprise us a lot. He wouldn’t tell us what we were going to shoot the day we were shooting. He would kind of put us into position and let us run for 45 minutes at a time and then change the cameras around. There would be screaming at each other and spitting on each other. In Paris I was alone and I didn’t really know anybody, and I don’t really speak very good French at all. I could understand a little more by the end than when we started shooting, but when you are doing stuff like this you become part of a smaller group of people that really understands the work you are doing. It’s hard to talk to friends back home about it because they don’t really know what you’re going through. You feel a little isolated. It’s hard to talk to people about it when they have no concept of what you’re doing. There were definitely times where I felt kind of crazy. I felt like Gaspar was really having a laugh like he was sort of manic and he’s like the master manipulator. I had a nightmare before I went over to France and before he even hired me. In my dream I was in sort of a spherical compartment. The walls were lined with cameras from every angle, and I was being shaken and tossed around. That sort of in a nutshell was what the experience was like at times because he really asked a lot of his actors. He wanted you to cry, he wanted you to strip down naked, he wanted you to scream and spit on each other, and he tried to charm you constantly and get you to fall in love with each other and didn’t really allow you to prepare for it because there is no script. How do you prepare for something like that? You kind of just have to take a breath and jump off a cliff and hope that the parachute is going to open at some point.
BK: I read that you and the actresses didn’t have any dialogue to work with. How would you go about preparing to do a scene with Gaspar?
KG: I’ll take you through one day of shooting. Without giving any of the plot away, there was one day where I got up, I had my little coffee in the morning, I’m waiting for the car to pick me up to take me to set and I get a call from Gaspar and he’s like, “Hey I’m at a café not too far from you. Can you come over and meet me here?” I said, “Yeah but the car is coming to pick me up like right now.” And he’s like, “Oh no, no, no, I called them and I told them not to get you. Just come over to the café which is a couple of blocks down on the left and meet me there. There is somebody I want you to meet.” Okay, so I walk over to the café and there is a young guy there whose name is Juan and he’s actually in the movie. Juan didn’t know it, but Gaspar wanted to put him in the movie so he has me meet him to see if he can play my best friend. So I meet that guy and he’s like nice and we talked for a minute. He had done this with a couple of other actors and I tried to give him the thumbs up. And he turns to Juan says, “So can you come by to the set today for a little screen test? Would you be cool with that?” The guy was like, “Sure, cool.” Gaspar then said, “Cool, just make sure you’re not late.” So then we go to set and a couple hours later Juan shows up and he thinks that he’s just doing a little audition or something, and both the cameras are set up. I don’t know what the shot’s going to be, neither does Gaspar, neither does Benoît Debie (the director of photography). They (Gaspar and Benoît) play with the lights for 45 minutes before they find a shot that they like, and that’s literally how they work. He just knew that if he put me in this position or if he put her in that position, then maybe he could match cut it with a different scene. He is giving himself options in the editing room. And then before Juan knows it he’s signing his NDA and he’s cast in the movie, and like 10 minutes later I’m like screaming at him that I’m going to kill him for like fucking my girlfriend and this and that. It was like that the whole time. We wouldn’t have an actor cast and he’d say we gotta go find an actor, and we would go out that night and go trolling the bars looking for someone who might be able to play the police commissioner and then we would run it through Vincent Maraval, our producer at Wild Bunch. Gaspar would tell them, “Hey you should be in the movie” and they were like “nah, nah, nah.” And Gaspar was like, “No, no, no, you should show up tomorrow.” And that’s how it was. Gaspar would have friends show up on set and make cameos, and it was all very, very improvised, very in the moment, very immediate. The whole nature of the movie and in terms of his process is surprising himself, surprising everybody around him and kind of not planning. That’s kind of the way it was with him. It was just like go, go, go and you never knew what you were going to get that day. His whole mantra was every day is Christmas. What do you want for Christmas today? And I think that he kind of lives by that; that life is short and that the only promise that God ever made to man is that you’re going to die and you might as well enjoy it now because you don’t know what dreams may come.
BK: I imagine many people, especially in America, will be quick to dismiss “Love” as just a porno, but it really isn’t. What’s fascinating is how it portrays sex in its different forms.
KG: Yeah, sex is a necessary component to love. Let’s get real here; real love requires that. You can love someone without having sex with them, but if you are in love with someone, especially when you are young, you’d probably, I think, would want to have sex with them. The whole porno conversation is a bit of a joke and a bit of a marketing thing. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have gotten a lot out of this. They had an experience, and I think those who are patient with the film will see something much bigger than what they might assume is some raunchy porno. I would be hard-pressed to think that Pierre Rissient who runs the Cannes Film Festival would let some piece of trash into his festival. He has high standards usually.
BK: Your character of Murphy is very self-absorbed.
KG: Definitely (laughs).
BK: But that reminded me of how self-absorbed we can get when we are young or when we are in love. It’s like the outside world almost doesn’t exist and the movie does a very good job of making us remember a time like that in our own lives?
KG: He’s a bit of a bitter loser, not making films. He’s a young filmmaker guided by passion.
BK: While Murphy may not be altogether likable, we are still compelled to follow him throughout this movie. How did you approach this character?
KG: I went to school, I studied seriously and I had incredible teachers that I admire. I admire talented and great actors and I have no interest in just being in a porno. Gaspar Noe is someone who I consider to be a brilliant filmmaker and someone I always wanted to work with, and it was all about trusting him and his vision and being part of that. When we talked about the characters I was asking all these questions. Who is this guy? What is he like? What does he want? He’s so secretive and he’s always kind of withholding information. Gaspar was like, “Well he’s kind of like sort of a funny guy, kind of clever at this and that.” At one point he said, “Maybe is kind of like my friend Harmony Korine when he was younger but not so drugged out. He’s just kind of funny in that way.” Gaspar was always complaining that I was too sweet to the girls and said, “I want you to ravage them. I want you to do this.” And I always thought that since we were making what some people might think of as sort of a dirty movie that I should be really sweet and really kinder. I always would try to insert jokes. I was always trying to make the crew laugh as much as possible while we were rolling. It’s kind of my fantasy that 10 years down the line maybe Gaspar will let me have a crack at editing my own version so that I could release a 3-D comedy because I think there is an alternate version where there’s a very sweet, a very funny Murphy which was what I was trying to do. But in the end he didn’t want it to be too funny. He didn’t want Rock Hudson. He wanted someone who was more bitter and had a lot of contradictions and would say one thing and like and then go do something else just like real people, he said. At one point, Murphy has sex with another girl at a party while his girlfriend Electra is in the other room and I was like, what was that? That makes me a total liar and he said, “Yeah, just like real life. People lie and people cheat on each other.” And I really had a moment where I was like, “Yeah you’re right.” We’re really just trying to make something that really felt honest. It’s not the smoothest, most cinematic piece where someone turns to their close-up mark perfectly so that the lover turns their collar and walks off into the rain. It’s not like that. It’s messy and it’s meant to feel much more like an honest depiction of what he or I or our friends relate to.
BK: I kept thinking that your character was more or less based on Gaspar especially in the moment where Murphy says his favorite movie is “2001.”
KG: There’s definitely a lot of that. I’m wearing Gaspar’s clothes in many of the scenes like T-shirts that he didn’t even wash. I would smell like his armpits. And sometimes he wouldn’t like the color of my pants and he would just pull his pants off and we would switch right there. He decided keep my belt because we had slightly different waist sizes. A lot of the story came from his own experiences. Not everything. There are certain things like I don’t think Gaspar ever impregnated the wrong woman, the woman he wasn’t in love with. He drew from some of his friends’ experiences and took them apart and put them together to create this portrait of a love story and tried to hit all aspects of it that he could think of. But as you see, a lot of the characters’ names are… Noe is the gallery owner, Gaspar is the child, and Murphy is actually Gaspar’s mother’s maiden name. He wanted to make what he felt was his most personal film, so there are little tombstones there to his loved ones and friends with the characters’ names. But obviously there’s also visual inside jokes. You can see the model of the Love Hotel from “Enter the Void” somewhere in the movie. I even tried to do little things that I think he kind of got a kick out of. I would change the time on the clocks to Gaspar’s birthday. I pulled out the DVD case of “I Stand Alone” at one point. It’s nice to have those Easter eggs there.
BK: There are a lot of easter eggs throughout this movie. He has all these posters of movies he really likes and which had an effect on him as a filmmaker like “Taxi Driver.”
KG: He’s got a pretty amazing poster collection. He keeps them all sort of rolled up or laid flat. He doesn’t hang them up, but he’s got some really rare ones. That “M” poster that you see at one point in my room is one of four existing “M” posters in the world. I think the Nazis destroyed most of them, and that one is one of four and I think it’s like one the nicest condition ones. I think he goes and does a commercial and get a bunch of money and then blows it all on old movie posters.
BK: I imagine a lot of people tried to dissuade you from doing this movie because of the nudity involved and the potentially negative effect it could have on your career. But you have since been cast in movies directed by Tom Ford and Nicolas Winding Refn.
KG: Nic is awesome.
BK: Working with Nic was fun?
KG: Yeah I would love to plug Nic right now. He, like Gaspar, is an auteur. He has final cut, he works from a script too, and he’s just one of these interesting guys who can paint his own picture. You’re not gonna tell him like, “No I need more green on this. I don’t like that. You need to change that.” He is someone who doesn’t like to be told what to do but however, like Gaspar, he is a collaborator and he’s very inclusive. When I was cast, I had this sort of blank canvas. I told him anyone can do this part and he said, “Karl if we cast you then you and I will build this character together and we will make it something.” And he was bringing me over to his house for meetings along with the other actors. He always asked everybody, what do you think of this? How do you think this should happen? What do you think you should do in the scene? Where should you be from, or how do you feel about that? And Nicolas shoots chronologically which is cool because then you can change where the story goes. I think the ending of the movie is completely different now than the draft I read initially before auditioning for it. He doesn’t know where he’s going, he doesn’t know what’s going to be, so that’s what’s exciting. So in a way I guess in a way he is similar to Gaspar like that in the sense of he wants to surprise himself. I think that’s pretty fun. I think Hitchcock was once quoted as saying “shooting a movie is the least exciting part of making a movie” because he already knew what everything was going to look like whereas I think these two filmmakers were talking about how that in a way they had no idea where they were going. They both want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. I think Gaspar was really happy with the end product. He said it came out much better than he ever thought, and I think that was in big part because of hiring Aomi who I think is just lovely and just fantastic in the movie and Klara who’s just so brave as well. I think these girls were just so generous and so joyful on set, and we got something much better than what he ever anticipated. And Nic and I have stayed in touch. He needled me a little bit saying that just a hang tight and that we were going to make another movie together, and I told him he can’t fuck with me like that. If we’re going to bed and we’re gonna fuck then we better fuck. Let’s not talk about it. He once said that making a movie with an actor is like going to bed with them because you make this baby with a big movie.
BK: It sounds like “Love” has had a very positive effect on your career so far. How would you describe the overall effect it has had?
KG: Well I mean it’s just kind of like a more immediate and obvious level. I met Tom Ford at Cannes, and so I happened to be in the same venue as him and talked to him about his movie. A couple of months went by before he hired me, but that meeting led to a job. Gaspar actually called Nic Refn personally in front of me and sold him the movie and told him to hire me. He gave me this ridiculous pitch which sounded better than any agent saying “he is the most daring and most professional actor in the world!” I don’t know if he went out on a limb but he didn’t have to do that, and his recommendation meant a lot to Nicolas because Nicolas has a lot of respect for Gaspar. And the movie resonates with certain filmmakers and certain actors who I admire and would love to work with some day. The movie has had nothing but a positive effect. My mother, she cried when I told her that we were going to go to Cannes. That was a big deal for her that her son might get to go to a big international film festival like that. I always wanted to do things that made my mother proud of me and cheer her up. When I was a little kid actually I think that was kind of the first thing that got me into acting is when my parents split up. I used to entertain my mom in the kitchen cleaning pots and pans and putting a chef’s hat on my head and pretending to have a cooking show. I called it Thor’s Kitchen because my mom was really into Norse mythology and I would make imaginary recipes in front of her and try to make her laugh. I think she has always been the driving force for me. So although she hasn’t seen this movie yet, and it will probably be some time before she does, she’s very proud of it and I think my dad kind of understands it better than some people too that there is a theory to cinema. Not every movie is just entertainment. Some movies have political messages or social messages. Some movies have an ambition to do a little bit more than just entertaining for an hour and a half while you’re chewing on popcorn.
BK: And some movies are meant to be an experience more than anything else
KG: Exactly, and this is one of them. It is not an experience for everybody, but some people will like it a lot hopefully.
I want to thank Karl Glusman for taking the time to talk with me. Special thanks also goes to WooJae Chung for the use of his photo at the top of Glusman which comes from his film “Consilience.” Gaspar Noe’s “Love” is now available to own, watch and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.