CLIMAX: One Helluva Party
Visionary writer/director Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void, Love) is back to deliver another hypnotic and hallucinatory experience with CLIMAX. The film is a dazzlingly choreographed party turned nightmare, and it is easily Noé’s most accessible film to date (and possibly his best). On thing is for sure, it’s definitely one helluva club banging party.
The film follows a troupe of young dancers rehearsing in a remote and empty school building, who embark on an all-night celebration that turns nightmarish as the dancers discover they've been pounding cups of sangria laced with potent LSD.
Gaspar Noé is a filmmaker that makes art your body responds to — generally a mix of trippy euphoria or dread, crawling unease, or straight-up disgust — and CLIMAX is no exception. In fact, CLIMAX may just be the perfectly accessible, bite-sized example of Noe’s effectiveness at conjuring up exciting and unsettling cinema. In addition to all that, it also offers up more intent and message than previous Noé films, which just might make it his best film to many (though I’m still partial to the gut-wrenching provocation and bleakness of Irreversible and the astonishing odyssey of Enter the Void).
Noé has essentially created a microcosm of France (and really the entire world) with his young dance troupe, consisting of actress Sofia Boutella and a slew of professional dancers who have never acted before, that favors the allegorical over the traditional narrative — think a less surface level mother! with more pizzazz and insanity — and moves to the rhythm of a fantastically curated club mix, including Daft Punk, Aphex Twin and Giorgio Moroder. The distress and unease that has worked its way across Europe also slowly seeps into our group of dancers, who begin to tear each other apart with a little motivation in the form of liquid hallucinogens. The film seems to suggest that life is a party, one that can easily spiral out from beyond your control but should be experienced nonetheless, implying to a certain degree that the dance goes on — though not in the “happily ever after” sense.
Noé’s nihilism is perhaps the darkest it’s been since Irreversible though, and his sense of fatalism here implies that not only is the situation (literally and allegorically) doomed and the characters screwed, but there is no hope for salvation via the younger generation, which is reinforced in two bleakly crucial narrative moments that make me think that Noé really has a disliking toward children. His technical artistry, which is elevated by cinematographer Benoît Debie (Enter the Void, Spring Breakers) is on full display, bolstered by some absolutely mesmerizing and hypnotic sequences that will leave your jaw on the floor (like the phenomenally exhaustive long take opening dance sequence).
CLIMAX is every bit the Gaspar Noé film you’d expect, with crazy, vibrant ADD titles, odd, abrasive assaults on traditional form, gravity-defying cinematography acrobatics, incredible sound design engineered to get right under the skin, and narrative elements built to intentionally mess with your head; however, after all the shock and awe he’s served, CLIMAX kinda feels tame by comparison — I can’t decide if it’s my desensitized demeanor or if it’s Noé maturing. Structurally, it’s first act is a bit odd, and for a 90-minute film, it takes its sweet time getting started to the point of almost being frustrating. There are sequences that drone on for too long, like the audition tapes in the beginning (which put Noé’s inspirations for the film — including Possession and Suspiria — out in the open) and some of the dance sequences; however, it all lends itself to the overall experience.
Whether you love it or hate it, it is definitely a singular experience, and only one that Noé can serve up — one that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen with a full crowd of deranged cinema ravers. It will likely contain some of the most dazzlingly electric cinematic feats you’ll see this year. Sofia Boutella’s performance really packs a punch (pun absolutely intended), and includes a sequence where she writhes around, as she’s trying to dance herself out of her hellish nightmare, in a way that gives Isabelle Adjani a run for her money; that alone is worth the price of admission.
Recommendation: This definitely will not be everyone’s cup of sangria, but if you’re a fan of extreme cinema, Noé’s previously films, or just like to party, this film is the unsettling insanity you’ve been waiting for.
Rating: 4.5 LSD sangrias outta 5.
What did you think? Was CLIMAX a banger, or was it tame in comparison to Noé’s other works? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!