UK Release Date: 21st September 2018
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Giselle Palmer, Kiddy Smile, Souheila Yacoub, Claude Gajan Maull
Synopsis: A dance troupe marks a post-rehearsal celebration with an evening of dance, partying and sangria, but things soon start to spiral into a hallucinogenic nightmare.
The name Gaspar Noé immediately induces a primal reaction in any cinephile who hears it. That response is either one of disgust or one of admiration towards cinema’s provocateur extraordinaire, responsible for movies as violent and horrific as Irreversible and as sexually explicit as Love. Lurking somewhere in between those is his new work Climax, which is an assaultive explosion of a film, battering its audience around the head like the fella who gets his head mulched with a fire extinguisher in the aforementioned Irreversible.
As the title suggests, this is a movie that opens at its climax, with a bloodied woman crawling through the snow having survived something horrific. The end credits roll and then the audience is shown a series of video interviews for dancers auditioning to join a new troupe, framed on a small TV surrounded by videotapes and DVDs of lurid, violent cinema classics like Salo, Un Chien Andalou and Suspiria. It’s a harbinger of what’s to come for these dancers when we meet them again in the midst of an intense routine full of contortions, vogueing and death drops that they appear to be performing in a dingy hall in front of a glittery Tricolore – on-screen text declares this is “a French film and proud of it”.
After that explosion of movement, the camera partakes in a lengthy shot winding and weaving between the dancers as they celebrate in the hall after the successful rehearsal. Their choreographer has made sangria and everyone is very merry, splitting away from the group to chat. It’s at this point that Noé delivers a collage of conversational snippets, framed in brief segments separated by abrupt use of black flashes as we learn about the characters, including de facto group leader Selva (Sofia Boutella) and over-confident sleazeball David (Romain Guillermic). Sexual bragging abounds and there’s a dark sense of competition to these fairly ordinary conversations, as if foreshadowing the chaos to follow.
Like any night out, the hedonism of Climax inevitably begins to go a little wrong. In this case, the powder keg atmosphere of sexual tension and professional rivalry ignites at the realisation that everyone is feeling funny in a way that goes beyond drunkenness. Someone has spiked the sangria and it seems as if LSD might be on the menu. The red light that seemingly bathes every corner of the hall exacerbates the sense of danger, which doesn’t let up even when characters migrate to the dark grime of the corridors surrounding the hall. Noé almost always refuses to cut, simply roving dispassionately from fiasco to fiasco as the tone darkens and the sense of desperation heightens. Every fibre of your being wants the camera to cut, but you also need to know what happens.
This is cinema as pure assault in a way reminiscent of last year’s mother! and its endurance test of bleak symbolism. Noé never lets his audience relax, concocting and oppressive cinematic space that ensnares the audience as much as it does its characters. These people can’t seem to leave the building and so neither can we, trapped by a labyrinth of corridors and the thudding bassline of the dance music score which never lets up and will shake the foundations of any cinema with a decent sound system. It’s an experience so intense I almost felt as if I was going to have to leave, but I didn’t want to miss a second.
If there’s a symbolic message to Climax – and I’m not sure there is – it’s about the doomed futility of youthful rebellion, destined to be destroyed by infighting and rivalry. That’s a message particularly prominent given the upfront Frenchness of the story, given the country’s penchant connection to youth in revolt. A potent, and surprisingly quiet, final scene suggests that the whole sorry cycle is certain to simply begin again. Even without any sort of deeper meaning, though, this is an unforgettable cinema experience. By the time DP Benoît Debie’s camera spins upside down for a third act of blood-soaked, sexually-charged insanity, you’ll be desperate for the chaos to end, but equally desperate for it to just keep going forever.
Pop or Poop?
Gaspar Noé is back and he’s as provocative as ever in Climax, which showcases a series of immensely committed performers as they depict an isolated dance troupe locked inside a building as madness ensues. There are elements of youthful rebellion and its inevitable collapse on show, but it’s also a straightforward blast of cinematic adrenaline delivered straight into the brain.
When you emerge, blinking and shaking your head, into the sunlight outside the cinema, it will be difficult not to be left with a pulsing headache and a scrambled mind as a reminder of Noé’s intense audiovisual artillery fire.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.