International auteur Gaspar Noé makes films that are challenging, creative, chaotic, uncompromising, distressing, and flawed. It’s the unbridled ambition and meticulous detail that the filmmaker delivers towards the technique and craft of filmmaking that makes his cinematic work compelling and frustrating in all the best and worst ways possible. And still, even with the polarizing outcomes, Gaspar Noé is a filmmaker that commands attention of film fans.
Climax is the provocateur’s newest and most accessible film of his entire diverse catalog. For those new to the director’s work, this will be a great introduction—and warning—before deciding to move forward with films like Enter the Void and the still completely affecting Irreversible.
A French dance ensemble gathers on a wintry night in an old and empty school building to rehearse. The diverse group of dancers (each of whom seems to possess their own unique style of physical rhythm) twist, sway, stomp, and gyrate in a communion of sweaty style and synchronization. After a successful session, the group settles in, begin to play music, share gossip about one another, and drink strong sangria. What the group is unaware of is that their drinks have been laced with LSD. Madness ensues.
In the beginning moments of Climax, a bloodied woman crawls across a snowy landscape, the perspective is focused overhead, looking down on her body. Very soon after this scene the film’s credits role, displaying all the people who, hypothetically, crawled across the ground bloodied and bruised in an effort to craft this film. Call it commentary on the state of the artistic process or how viewers of art treat the material or something deeper into the history of French art, however you identify this, it is without a doubt the director trying to say something to the audience.
The social commentary, which is often communicated through the violence and mayhem that exists in Noé’s work, is focused very clearly throughout Climax, which is part of the reason why this film is so accessible. And for a film that revels in showcasing the disgusting and destructive nature of humanity, with someone being burned alive while laughter ensues from the responsible party, to a pregnant woman being beaten by another woman, it’s not hard to guess what Gaspar Noé’s other films may have in tow for viewers.
Early in the film, an old tube television is positioned within frame, personal interviews with the dance troupe answering questions about the dance process, ambition, and fears rolling one right after the other. Surrounding the television are VHS films like Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Argento’s Suspiria, and Żuławski’s Possession and books like Luis Buñuel’s autobiography Mon Dernier Soupir—these are the inspirations Noé was using for specific scenes or themes. It's heavy inspirational ground for a heavily thematic film that features two over 15-minute-long single shot takes and a breathtaking dance number that never seems to end and yet never gets boring.
It’s this meticulous and calculated process that marks Climax as something special, even with its obvious errors that are easy to identify. Still, in the current cinematic world that is riddled with films trying to establish franchises and fit into the landscape of what everything else looks like, it’s nice to see a filmmaker introduce and indulge in complete stylistic chaos for 97 minutes.
Movie Score: 4/5