Written by Gaspar Noé
Directed by Gaspar Noé
You can always count on Gaspar Noé to provide a cinematic experience that will leave an indelible impression. I think it’s been about 13 years since I saw Irreversible and there are still moments within that movie that haven’t left my memory, nor do I think they ever will. Such is the case with Climax, the writer/director’s latest foray in assaultive cinema.
Essentially two films in one, the film follows a group of urban dancers in the mid-90’s who spend three days together to rehearse for a touring show. On the eve of the third night, they celebrate their accomplishments with a party that has the usual food and beverage accouterments. While noshing on chips and other finger foods, all set to the backdrop of 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s bass-driven soundtrack, they all partake in some homemade sangria which, unbeknownst to all but one, has been heavily spiked with LSD. As the effects take hold, the second portion of the film begins and it is a dizzying, disorienting, descent into damnation.
Noé plays the audience wonderfully, framing each shot in such a way that we’re either entranced by the breadth of visuals playing from corner to corner but then knowing exactly how to adjust the arrangement so that our eyes dart back to his precise point of focus. We are kept in the palm of his hand and he’s the puppet master that directs our gaze with pinpoint precision.
As Noé is wont to do, the rabbit hole we fall into quickly traverses from safe and secure to outright terrifying. This is Hell, no doubt about it, and we watch as these characters explode across the screen, their bodies contorting wildly with professional dancer abilities coupled with manic and rabid abandon. Coupled with a direct and unflinching look at homophobia, toxic masculinity/femininity, racism, and bigotry, the very worst of some characters comes to play as lives are ruined, friendships destroyed, and relationships shattered.
Something to note is Noé’s usage of long takes. There are two, each almost unrealistically lengthy and yet hypnotically captivating as we are able to follow the escalation of the drug’s influence over the crowd. As the psychedelia takes hold, so too does our discomfort.
It should be noted that this is not necessarily all effusive praise. While the film is technically astounding and the acting is phenomenal across the board, it does come with a fair amount of “style over substance”. The story is as basic as it gets and we never really delve deep into who the characters are. The point of this film isn’t to empathize with anyone but rather to marvel at the depravity we’ll wade through when freed from the constraints and shackles of self-control.
Essentially a phantasmagorical take on Fame, Climax is an all-out assault on the senses. Noé once again proves he can challenge audiences in ways that they could never prepare themselves for.