Ever since his 1998 directorial debut I Stand Alone, Gaspar Noé has gone out of his way to garner international attention with his cinematic shock tactics. Every movie boasts some sort of noteworthy production gimmick and exploitation element to get butts in seats, whether it be the countdown to leave the theater before the climax of I Stand Alone, his rape/revenge story told backwards Irreversible, or his POV psychedelic odyssey Enter the Void. All threee movie certainly live up to his provocative promises and tend to alienate the hell out of audiences disinterested in such things. Yet, for those who sign up for a Gaspar Noé ride, there’s inevitably also something a little more complex beneath the surface, even if it takes wading through a fountain of filth to get there.
Noé’s latest project Love is certainly his most attention-grabbing to date. A decade in the making, it’s an X-rated erotic picture shot in 3D. Yes, all of the eye-poking naughty bits you’d imagine are there. Yet, beyond the shock n’ awe tactics is a surprisingly emotionally raw love story that feels painfully personal. Sure, the chances of the audiences showing up for a 3D erotica appreciating the delicately melancholy drama (and vice versa) are slim, but those that do will certainly find a cinematic experience unlike anything else. Collider got a chance to chat with the perverted provocateur about his ambitious new feature during his trip to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, touching on everything from the difficulties of shooting in 3D to casting himself as a dirty art dealer and his interest in making a short film of the Oculus Rift.
Collider: You’ve been talking about doing an erotic love story for quite a while now, has it always been this specific story in your mind or did that evolve over the years?
Gaspar Noé: Nah, it’s the same story. I added some scenes just before shooting it, but also before shooting the whole script was just a treatment that was 7 pages long, so we had like 60 scenes written with maybe one specific line here or there.
So you never expanded beyond that?
Noé: No, we shot that treatment instead of a script. Most of the dialogue was improvised on the set. I would whisper from behind the camera, “Oh you should say this or that” and then they would come up with something and we’d cut out my voice. I spent a long time editing because we had so many different versions of every scene.
You did that before with Irreversible, right?
Noé: Yeah, that was a 3-page treatment. Enter The Void was a full 120=page script, but I’ve come to like reinventing the story on the set. So from now on I think I’ll have a hard time respecting a long script with written dialogue. Especially since I like working with non-professional actors. They aren’t as used to memorizing dialogue like professional actors. But, I find their charisma on screen to be much stronger than professional actors, who can feel too rehearsed sometimes.
Did you ever consider offering it to professional actors or was that not even worth considering with this one?
Noé: Well, if I had found two actors who I thought we good for the movie, I would have done it. But when I met Karl Glusman I thought he was so cool and full of energy that I wanted him. Then once I found him and I had to find someone who could match what he brought. So it couldn’t be a professional. Eventually I met Aomi Muyock and at first she didn’t want to do it. Then we became friends and she agreed that as long as it was Karl.
Did you write the role as the sleazy art dealer for yourself?
Noé: No, no, no. That was a last minute decision. The character was always called Noe because I named all of the characters in the script after someone in my family. But then one week before shooting I was walking down the street and there was this wig store. I went inside and tried on this one wig that my assistant director and I thought was hilarious. So I thought, “maybe I could do it with the wig.” I did a test and it worked, so I went with it. I had wanted to play a part in Enter The Void. It was the gay drug dealer called Bruno. But then some guy came in for casting who I thought was so much better than me that I didn’t have a choice. When I met him I thought, “Damn, this guy stole my part.” This one I didn’t intend to play, but as soon as I saw the wig, it had to happen.
I was surprised when I saw how you chose to use 3D in the movie when I finally saw it. I’m used to your work being filled with such wild camera moves, but this was more restrained and intimate. What interested you in trying to find that specific look in 3D, was it just never having seen it used that way before?
Noé: Actually the movie that movie that impressed me the most with its 3D was Gravity, which is very different. Then I like older movies like House Of Wax that use long still shots. And actually the 3D enhanced version of The Wizard Of Oz is amazing if you watch it Blu-ray. I wish they’d do the original King Kong that way too.
Yeah, it almost looks like a peaking into a proscenium theater.
Noé: Yeah, it’s like a puppet theater effect that is touching. Especially if you watch it on a big screen there is something in the 3D effect that feels oddly realistic. It’s still seems artificial, but as an imitation of life it feels closer to your own experience of space than a 2D flat screen.
Did you find yourself limited by the 3D technology at all compared to how you normally shoot?
Noé: Well, the camera system made of two cameras and a mirror is very heavy. So, I wanted to do longer shots, but the steadicam operators were on their knees exhausted very quickly. So, I had to cut some scenes so that the operator could refresh his legs more often.
Do you feel like you got to try everything that you were interested in trying in 3D or do you think you’ll experiment with it further?
Noé: I was offered the chance to do a short film for the Oculus Rift, which is similar. But I don’t know. Maybe I’m used to big movie theaters and that feels like a very different game because it’s very lonely. It’s a game you make for only one person.
Did you try it?
Noé: Oh yes.
Yeah, me too. It’s interesting, but I agree quite isolating.
Noé: Yes, perhaps I need to try it again with a better headset in higher definition. The one I tried had a lower quality image and something didn’t feel right.
Why did you choose to include references to your other movies in Love, like the VHS case for I Stand Alone and the hotel model from Enter The Void?
Noé: Well, even though the movie isn’t directly autobiographical, at the same time it kind of is. I wanted to portray the world that I know. So, I named all the characters after members of my family. The main character has my mother’s maiden name Murphy. I filled the movie with all these elements that felt very close to me. So even though the events never happened to me, things that were very close did. I wanted to surround myself with things that I know. Adding all of these private elements made me feel at home.
Yeah, I was surprised by how tender the movie is at times, which a word I never thought I’d be able to use to describe one of your movies.
Noé: Well, I’m a tender person. I’m perhaps far more complex than the person I put out in the world. But, yeah I’m very sentimental at times. The end of I Stand Alone is sentimental, the fact that the main character in Enter The Void doesn’t want to die and wants to stay with his sister is very sentimental, and the fact that Irreversible is about a man avenging his girlfriend has that element. I think all the movies that I made are about someone hoping that a relationship with another person will fulfill his life and that keeping his promises could make him stronger.
Sometimes I almost think of you as an art house version of William Castle, where you present a certain image of yourself as a public figure behind these films and you always have a certain production gimmick and exploitative element to sell your movies on. But then they always tend to be more complex and different than that image suggests. Is that something that you deliberately try to do to sell of your movies.
Noé: Sure, I like William Castle. He was very playful. I would say I’m playful even in a childish way. For example, if I do end up making a film for the Oculus Rift, it will just be because I like new toys. Maybe because I had so many as a kid and then you get used to them and when you’re an adult you’re always seeking new toys.
For many years now, all the way back to Irreversible, the only projects I’ve heard you discuss are Love and Enter The Void. Has there been anything else you’ve been toying with in your mind during that time or has your focus been exclusively on these projects?
Noé: I have mainly one idea, but I don’t think I’m going to make that next because it’s a very dark movie. It’s a movie about cruelty and mental abuse, but I think maybe I want to do another joyful movie (Laughs) before I force myself down there. I don’t know if this one is entirely joyful, but you know.
Noé: Exactly. It’s melancholic, but I wanted to show makes like bigger and beautiful to my eyes.
I’ve always been curious, since you are a recognizable name as a filmmaker have you ever been offered American film? Or do they know better.
Noé: Well, never a Hollywood movie other than every now and than one or two scripts that an actor sent me. Benicio Del Toro sent me a script one time and some other friends sent me something. But I would say, Hollywood studios would likely be scared of me and I think I’d be scared of them. Besides the added production value, I don’t know what I’d get out of it. I think people would feel too nervous working with me. I think about Paul Verhoeven. When he went to the States, was he really making personal movies? Yeah, maybe he perverted the system, but are his Dutch movies closer to his vision of the world? It’s hard to say. But, I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll do a horror movie or something.