Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Premise: A French dance troupe gathers in a remote location for a three day rehearsal. While celebrating the end of the recital, someone spikes the punchbowl with a hallucinogenic drug and the evening’s festivities descend into madness.
What Works: Gaspar Noé is a filmmaker whose work gets in the audience’s face. He is a master of using sound and moving images to create films that are visceral experiences and in that sense Climax is one of Noé most purely cinematic films. Nearly the entire movie takes place inside a single building and the camera drifts in and out of the action. Many of the takes are quite long with the action playing out in a single shot. Climax is an extraordinary work of choreography and editing. As the camera drifts through the crowd, characters step in and out of the action and their placement is perfect with the viewer’s eye drawn to exactly where it is supposed to be at the precise moment our attention needs to be placed there. As the drugs take effect the camera gets looser, simulating the mental state of the inebriated dancers, and by the end the world has turned upside down. The sound is also exceptional. The music consists of bass-heavy electronic songs that drive the film and the action and camera work are synced the soundtrack. But the sound is also distorted in a way that is unnerving. As the evening descends into madness, the members of the dance company begin to turn on each other and tensions and grudges boil over. But this isn’t just gratuitous style and shock. Climax gets self-reflexive in a way that’s ironic. The dance troupe expresses themselves through the movement of their bodies and the choreography of their act is highly intricate. The movie opens with the dancers finishing their routine and then relaxing in what is supposedly casual downtime. But the action of Climax is highly choreographed so that the whole movie is a sort of dance number. And since movement, proximity, and physical contact are forms of social interaction, Climax suggests that our spontaneous behaviors are also a sort of performance. The drug-fueled madness breaks down those social constructs and unleashes sexuality and violence among the dancers.
What Doesn’t: Climax is consistent with Gaspar Noé’s other films so viewers who are familiar with his work know what to expect. Noé’s work does not elicit ambivalent responses. All his films are extreme in their style and content and viewers are either going to go along with Noé or they’re not. And Climax might be the most Noéish of his films. The narrative of Climax is thin but Noé has generally been less concerned with stories than with making visceral experiences and Climax is discombobulating viewing. However, the lack of interest in character lessens the emotional impact of the film. Unlike Irreverisible or Love, which had limited casts and defined characters, Climax has a lot of people and we don’t get to know anyone in a meaningful way so as to care about what happens to them.
DVD extras: Featurette.
Bottom Line: Climax is a wild viewing experience. It is consistent with Gaspar Noé’s other work and fans of the filmmaker should certainly give the film a look but Climax is also a pretty good introduction to Noé for curious and uninitiated viewers.
Episode: #764 (September 1, 2019)