For those familiar with the work of Argentine-French provocateur Gaspar Noé (the cheaply brutal "Irreversible," the gorgeous head trip "Enter the Void"), the prospect of a love story told primarily through close-up, explicit, 3-D coitus might sound as much an attention-grabbing threat as a promise to excite. The simple truth is that his raw tale of lost, lamented passion — immodestly branded "Love" — is a noble misfire won and lost in those sex scenes, which are performed with admirable openness by newcomers Karl Glusman and Aomi Muyock.
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Noé's story is so simple as to be almost childish. American-in-Paris Murphy (Glusman), a wannabe filmmaker disenchanted by life as a new young dad, recalls the one who got away, self-destructive French art student Electra (Muyock). Their combustible romance — equal parts rapture and rupture — is played backward in short bursts of unadulterated sensation, Noé's evident aim being for the frequent lovemaking to serve the same function that dialogue does in every other boy-meets-girl story.
That's a potent concept, but the trouble is that it quickly becomes a tedious voyeurism when the characters are so thinly conceived as flesh avatars instead of flesh-and-blood people, and the actors aren't skilled enough to suggest much else. When Murphy talks about his desire to bring "sentimental sexuality" to cinema, it's as if explicitness has infected Noé's non-nude scenes too.
When "Love" works, Noé achieves a lulling, melancholic frenzy about sex and memory, but the foundation isn't strong enough to make his movie ever seem more than a stereoscopic fermata: one envelope-pushing note held way too long.