Review: Climax

As the poster boy for post-millennial transgressive French cinema, Gaspar Noe has a reputation that precedes him by miles, and while his newest outrage does nothing to confound that estimation, its musical pedigree makes it somewhat less distasteful, at least on the surface. Ugly things happen as they do in all Noe films, but the glaze of manic terpsichorean energy lightens it up substantially, making Climax not only Noe’s most watchable film but perhaps his wittiest as well.

The premise is simple and straighforward: a dance troupe of some two dozen young people from various multi-cultural and pan-sexual backgrounds are assembled through audition in a cavernous abandoned school in the middle of nowhere on a cold winter night sometime in 1996. They rehearse an extraordinarily visceral dance routine to Cerrone’s “Supernature” that lasts 20 minutes, and when they are through the viewer is just as exhausted as they are and ready to party. The manager of the troupe has set out a bowl of sangria, and as the dancers partake Noe shifts fitfully from one conversation to another in order to give us an idea of the various personalities at large in the big, dimly lit room. The stories are cleverly spun to peg certain behaviors and sensibilities to individuals: some are aggressively sexual, some menacingly cerebral, one thinks she is pregnant, while another can hardly keep her libidinal urges in check. What binds them all is the physicality of their beings as crystallized in their one common desire, which is to dance.

As these conversations increase in intensity and self-absorption, it becomes clear that something is off, and eventually someone realizes that the sangria has been spiked, perhaps with LSD. Once this intelligence spreads, the behavior becomes both more aggressive and less controlled. The preternatural physicality of the dancer becomes a danger to both the possessed and those around them, and soon bodies are doing odd things in unpleasant ways, including causing violence to others and themselves. A child is locked in a storage room for his own protection only to freak out as well (never trust Noe with a kid); the pregnant woman miscarries; a knife is applied to skin; a miscreant is shoved out into the snow with no protection.

The joke, as Noe has himself admitted, is that none of these people are being punished for their egotism and arrogance, though they might very well deserve it. He is simply showing how a good time can descend into horror show in such a short span and for such a pedestrian reason. In the end, what he’s really after is an excuse to put his filmmaking imagination to full use, and his depiction of the drug-fueled hysteria that develops is both terrifying and hypnotic. The longest seemingly unbroken cut is almost 40 minutes and involves turning the camera in every direction until the viewer is walking on the ceiling observing the carnage below. All the while Noe miraculously follows the various interpersonal storylines without dropping a beat or losing a motivation. These possessed souls have bodies that can perform the hallucinatory contortions that Noe demands, so why not make a movie about a bad collective trip? For once, the director’s high concept approach to horror results in something unique and fascinating, but no less repugnant.

In French and English. Opens Nov. 1 in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-55519.

Climax home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2018 Rectangle Productions-Wild Bunch-Les Cinemas de la Zone-Eskwad-KNM-Arte France Cinema-Artemis Productions

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