Climax | Gaspar Noé | March 1, 2019
Climax, the latest from the always provocative Gaspar Noé, shows a wild all-night dance party that soon descends into a hellish nightmare that challenges your senses and will most certainly test your patience.
Very loosely based on a true story, Climax all goes down at an old abandoned French school in 1996 where a large dance troupe is winding down after a hard couple of days of rehearsals which are shown off with a dazzling long take that shows all the incredible dancing and choreography. Before this sequence, Noé gives us some brief introduction to the cast of characters through audition tapes of the diverse group of characters that make up this troupe. The footage is framed on a vintage TV with various VHS tapes surrounding the TV, with films as Possession and Suspira clearly in sight, hinting at the sort of descent into madness that Noé would be leading us towards.
We don’t get much insight into any of these characters, just their reasons for entering the world of dance and possibly going to America to tour with the group. These aren’t fully formed characters that you will find any sense of endearment or attachment towards. They’re just pieces to the crazy puzzle that Noé is putting together only to throw it against the wall.
After the blissful dance sequence, we get a quick glimpse of the fractions of friendships and dynamics of the group, with fragments of the inner workings and drama of the troupe. There are some pretty raw and crude discussions that take place and almost none of these characters are likable or fleshed out, but considering the nuttiness that awaits for them, that is surely the point. The closest we have to a main character is Selva, mainly because the part is played by Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Mummy), the only big-time actor cast in the film.
What is supposed to be a fun night of dancing, partying, and hooking up takes a weird turn once they all realize that someone has drugged the punch with LSD. The night soon takes a dark turn with characters embracing their darkest inner demons and all hell breaks loose, and knowing that this comes from the mind of Gaspar Noé, literally anything goes.
While the framing of the dances and the overall technical marvel of Climax is hard to deny, this feverish nightmare hugs tightly on the notion of style over substance. With a pummeling sound design of the constant blaring house and dance music blaring as the craziness unfolds, it’s basically a character in and of itself. Noé and cinematographer Benoît Debie frame it all in a dizzying fashion with hues of saturated red and long takes, often twirling upside-down in a way that’s supposed to put you into the drugged up framework of these characters. While this works to effect early on at a certain point, it just feels self-indulgent and during the pivotal and batshit “climax”, I grew tired of the floating camerawork which ended up taking me out of the film, instead of immersing me further.
There is plenty that will shock, disturb, and challenge you to look away, but the real question is what does all this shock and awe intend to say. These paper-thin characters don’t allow you to care more than on a natural level of curiosity and any themes and motifs are buried well below the sand. While often an undeniable technical achievement at times by Noé, ultimately the director can’t stay out of his own way and you’re left feeling nothing but exhausted and depleted by the end of its 95-minute runtime.