Illustration © Samuel Spencer
You have heard of the Bechdel Test, now try the Wasabi Peanut test. Buying a drink at the bar before the preview of Gaspar Noé‘s latest, I bought a packet of that delicious snack in order to get to the minimum card charge. My idea was simple. Noé’s films are known for stretches of sex and violence, but also for period of real tedious boredom. With his latest, with its promise of real unsimulated sex in 3D, I thought I would try an experiment. If I couldn’t get through the whole bag of peanuts due to being perpetually transfixed or disgusted, then the film was a disgusting triumph, a confirmation of Noé’s auteur status. If I finished them,the film was a dull disaster, proof that Noé was far more interested gazing at his own navel than anyone’s genitals or inner feelings. That, or my love of wasabi overrode my disgust at heterosexual sex. The test is still being fine-tuned.
So I am sad to report that by around the 2-hour mark I was all out of nuts, and the film was still showing me endless shots of Karl Glusman‘s nuts on the screen. However, that might have been more due to how endless this film is, with me needing sustenance just to get through it. Running at two and a half hours, it was at least an hour too long, with even the incredible cinematography becoming monotonous.
To be sure, the cinematography is great. Benoît Debie excels in creating an immersive 3D environment, including breathtaking scenes in nightclubs and dark corridors. He also has a penis ejaculating straight at the audience, but really you could not have a film with 3D sex in it without that. If nothing else, hopefully it will stop the ‘it felt like you could reach out and grab it’ cliché about 3D films.
Here is the trailer, which shows some of these great visuals:
With such beautiful visuals, you really wish Noé could fill them with at least one character who was in any way interesting, or had anything interesting to say. Perhaps his casting options were limited by what he was asking his actors to do (no cock-doubles here), but gee. The lead, Karl Glusman, manages to be more wooden than (insert cock joke of choice here). Aomi Muyock is better, but unfortunately we often get to her through Glusman’s whispered narration, featuring variations of ‘urgh I feel like shit’ for 150 minutes. That is, when he is not being given lines to say that have clearly written by someone with English as a lingua franca, featuring weird sentence constructions that sound incredibly stilted coming out of the mouth of an American character.
(Also, it does not really fit into this review, but it is worth saying: this film has some of the most horrible transphobia I have seen in a recent film.)
In fact, the main problem with the film is something I alluded to in the first paragraph. Noé is trying far too hard to be an auteur, directing, editing and writing this film. When the film is way overlong and features none of the wisdom about love it seems to think it has, he has clearly failed in two of his three jobs here. If you want a look at love and sex from a master auteur, watch Eyes Wide Shut. Watch Nymphomaniac. But do not watch this.
Although the film focuses on sex between partners, the main impression you get is of Noé masturbating, and ‘Love’ is the result. Unfortunately in this case, he is clearly shooting blanks. 3D blanks, but blanks none the less.