You really have to wonder about a film that opens with two people jerking-off each other.

Gaspar Noé, director of such mercurial films as ENTER THE VOID and IRREVERSIBLE has returned to once again consider the intersection of love and sex with his new project LOVE. It’s the story of Murphy (Karl Glusman), a young American living in Paris. When the film opens he’s a new father and living with a woman named Omi (Klara Kristin), but we can tell that something isn’t right – and it goes beyond the usual stress new parents go through. Turns out Murphy is consumed by the disappearance of his ex girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock), and he spends the film flashing back to the in’s and out’s of his relationship with her.

It’s difficult to watch a film like LOVE, and not because it’s so explicit – and let’s not pull punches here, this film is very explicit. No, it’s difficult to sit through LOVE because of the selfish and vile nature with which Murphy relates to the women around him. He’s small, he’s bitter, he’s possessive, he’s a loser, and he’s angry. He lobs the word “love” around and yet he clearly has no idea what true love really is. When he fights with Electra – and they fight often – he gets nasty. His words are vicious and hypocritical, and make us want to walk away.

But we can’t – we’re stuck there, watching this young man say whatever it takes to continue gratifying only himself.

There are moments in LOVE that are profoundly beautiful; moments both in the anticipation of sex and the afterglow that feel romantic and warm and make our minds wander to the most idyllic moments in our own romantic history. However, just as often – seemingly more often, really – the runtime of LOVE gives itself over to scene after scene of these young people fucking. Sometimes it’s tender, sometimes it’s carnal, but no matter what it’s always explicit (in 3-D no less).

When a film (literally) shoves it in your face for that long, you have to wonder what it wants to do. It’s clearly not there to titillate, there’s far too much ugliness for that. So if it’s there to inspire, why bother being so explicit? Surely, there are ways to tell the story of two people who only seem to be able to properly connect between the sheets that don’t involve scene after scene of unsimulated sex.

At the end of the day LOVE is a contradiction. It shines a light on the time in our lives when we are supposed to love most whole-heartedly, both emotionally and physically. It reminds us of the time when we are bound by so little, and free to try out different things and different people and be more vulnerable than we ever will. And yet, our protagonist seems to have no idea what love is. He’s all about experimentation, but it’s coming at the expense of intimacy…and without intimacy, there can be no vulnerability.

There’s a world of difference between sex and love, and whether one appreciates this film depends on how much time they want to spend in the space between the two.