Many casual film fans and cinephiles alike have questioned the gap between what is art and what is deemed explicit.  Movie ratings and what is allowed to be shown for certain levels has shifted dramatically since the PG-13 rating was introduced in 1984 and the NC-17 rating was added in 1990.  Some see it as what movies can get away with while others demand boundaries.  After all, audiences enter into films with their own adamant biases, tastes, and beliefs for what is entertainment, what is art, and what crosses the line to explicit.  They formulate the true definitions of what is art and what is explicit, not ratings systems.  Beauty is in the "eye of the beholder," but so is filth.  Explicit scenes of either violence or sex will push certain buttons for certain audiences and test their tolerances.  The result is a varying degree of acceptance of explicitness within the artistic medium of film and an embitterment of what goes against tolerances and is refused as art.  

French filmmaker Gaspar Noe's new film, "Love," demands audience acceptance of seeing art in the explicitness of sex.  "Love" premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and incited fights in the audiences.  It makes its U.S. debut exclusively in art-house theater locations on November 6 across the country, including the Music Box Theatre here locally in Chicago.

When you bring up the idea of explicit sex, the immediate label is "pornography."  Lead by trio of unknown leads and shot in exploitative 3D, "Love" is going to have a hard time (go ahead and start inserting "that's what she said" at every opportunity) shaking that label of "pornography" in favor of "art."  For this writer, this is the "Tree of Life" of explicit sex.  From most critics that helped build "The Tree of Life" as a "certified fresh" 84% scorer on Rotten Tomatoes, that comparison is high praise.  However, on this website, after an epic rant of a review in 2011 for Terrance Malick's film, that collation is far from a compliment. 

"Love" is about a broken man reminiscing about his former lover Electra (Aomi Muyock) in a state of panic.  The rush of memories and worries stems from getting a call from Electra's mother Nora (Isabelle Nicu) that she has gone missing.  Murphy (Karl Glusman) is a married man who feels trapped and figuratively castrated.  He makes it work for his son and knows that fatherhood matters, but his marriage with his wife Omi (Klara Kristin) has become loveless.  He's only with her because his infidelity got her pregnant due to a broken condom.  What a great and chipper start for love, eh?

Years before, Murphy was a single American film student soaking in all of the vices of the Paris nightlife and club scene.  He meets Electra then and his two-year obsession with her begins.  Tying together two free spirits in a love-hate relationship becomes challenging.  We witness their rise, fall, and indecent deeds in between over the course of an exhausting 135 minutes.  Gaspar Noe shows us Murphy's memories of those combative and passionate moments in small flashback stints presented in a non-linear order.  Glusman offers a constant petulant and bitter internal monologue in a voiceover that aims to make sense of what we are watching.

Make a list of all the kinky terms and taboo bedroom antics you would deem explicit and then add a cinematic 3D effect.  Imagine the possibilities, both titillating and uncomfortable.  You'll find them all in the unsimulated and non-choreographed sex scenes of "Love."  Buyer beware, that makes "Love" for adults only and wholeheartedly not for everyone.  Go see the trailer to test your resolve and your range of taste.

This is not Gaspar Noe's first envelope-pushing attempt after alienating audiences with the Monica Bellucci rape film "Irreversible" from 2002.  Misguided or not, there is, admittedly, an artistic method to Noe's imperfect madness.  He strives for "Love" to be a film first and pornography second.  He wants this journey to be about the people and not the act of sex.  "Spring Breakers" cinematographer Benoit Debie layers in the hues, lighting, straight-on framing, and long single takes to create a palette that isn't your camcorder Dirty Randy porn.  The film's soundtrack strikes emotional chords and groves with reflective music pieces from Erik Satie, Brian Eno, Death in Vegas, Funkadelic, and closing credits back by the "Goldberg Variations" of Johann Sebastian Bach played by Glenn Gould.  Those high-minded creative choices of quality scream more art than pornography.  That's what earns "Love" its single star of recognition.

Even if you see the art attempted to fill the surface and atmosphere in "Love," the depth of it ceases at that skin deep level.  The overall effect and effort lacks beauty and purpose.  The artistic quality does not carry over into plot and interluded storytelling.  The content is not nearly as deplorable as the people and the characters.  The cardinal sin of "Love" is that it fails tremendously to radiate that titular word of love.  Banality fills where love should be.  The negative attitude and effect is all over the dialogue and language of "Love" more than the sex scenes.  The film claims sentimental sexuality, but poetic shouting matches are still shouting matches and everyone despises each other.  There is more hate than love, more depression than melancholy, and more obsession than affection.  That's where the real filth is to make "Love" a sour, unwatchable experience more than a passionate one.

LESSON #1: THE EROTIC SIDE TO A RELATIONSHIP-- Sex is an expression of love and intimacy that does build a stronger connection with people.  Sex, both the good and the bad, is haunting, memorable, and engrossing.  Such a level of intimacy adds to a relationship, but it can be fleeting.  Sex can be a strong connection, but not necessarily a real one.  More in the next lesson.

LESSON #2: THE EMPTY THRILL OF YOUNG LOVE-- Murphy spends much of his flashback days as a insatiable consumer of sex and drugs.  In his youthful ignorance, he thinks attraction and arousal mean love when the real thing is deeper than empty thrills.  Murphy lacks the maturity to know real connection.  Moreover, in his emotional blindness, he wouldn't know what to do with a real connection if he had one, hence Lesson #3.

LESSON #3: THE BLEAKNESS OF LACKING LOVE-- Once Murphy comprehends that he's married and stuck as a father in an empty relationship, he then realizes what he was missing in Lesson #1 and Lesson #2.  At some point in our lives, the thrills and sensations end and our instincts and emotions to bond set in.  We learn love and either embrace where we found it or we glumly regret where we missed it.  Whether it was reciprocal or not, Murphy thinks he missed it with Electra.