French provocateur Gaspar Noe is back with his new film “Climax”, and this time the film ironically received far less boos and backlash that he is used to. Even with his provocations that often include hell on earth imagery, shocking violence, and other forms of graphic content that takes his characters and viewers down a tapestry of misery, suffering, and torment, “Climax” surprisingly generated great buzz at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, which left Noe puzzled, confused, and disappointed. Like his previous films, Noe once again explores around with grandiose ideas about philosophy, time, life and death. What elevates Noe’s films away from exploitation and shock for just being shocking, is the pure fact that he is a genuine artist that truly has something to say about humanity as a whole. We also get to see a lot of truly great influences in work as well that only becomes the icing on the cake. Including his French New-Wave influences that he often uses, along with many other influences from his favorite films and stylistic devices that include using the opening film titles in the middle, using the end credits in the beginning, and using texts in the way French New-Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard does, including one that states, “Death is an extraordinary experience” and another one that states “This is a French film, and proud of it.”
Noe’s fifth feature film, which is every bit as unnerving and unforgettable as his previous endeavor’s that include “I Stand Alone”, the 2003 masterpiece “Irreversible”, the 2010 masterpiece “Enter the Void”, and the disappointing 2014 “Love”. His new film “Climax” plays out like a psychedelic horror fever dream, and it’s every bit as technically stellar and haunting as his previous films.
The story is about a group of dancers who are practicing and rehearsing dance numbers in a remote studio in a wintry rural area in France. This is a racially diverse group of dancers, who begin to get more acquainted with one another, yet as the evening goes on, they end up turning the practice into a dance party, in which someone ends up spiking a potent hallucinogenic drug into their fruit punch. The drug almost puts them into a literal nightmare, in which it begins as panic, and they end up turning themselves into a zombie-like state where the dancers find themselves creating conflict, hate, paranoia, and ultimately violence towards one another.
“Climax” starts off with a bang of a birds eye shot of a woman walking frantically out of a building and into a snow covered ground, she is in complete shock and disarray, shivering in pain and traumatized what she just endured as a remix of Erik Satie’s masterful “Gymnopedies” performed by Gary Numan plays over the striking image. As Noe always does, he sets the tone of the film off instantly, and it allows the audiences to know exactly what they are in for. From there Noe uses video footage of each of the dancers who introduce themselves, who they are, and why they love to dance. Around the TV are old VHS cases and books of all of Noe’s direct influences that include Andrezej Zulawski’s “Possession”, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Solo, or the 120 Days of Sodom”, Dario Argento’s “Suspiria”, and Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie” that all play huge influences in Noe’s imagery, narrative, and execution here in “Climax”. These odes are clearly derivative, however they end up becoming distinctive on their own because Noe is a visual and technical master that holds his own distinctive style.
Upon the interviews Noe gets right to the dance numbers and they are absolutely exhilarating, along with a first-rate soundtrack that includes Daft Punk, Ceronne, Patrick Hernandez, and Neon to name a few. The way the dancers move in the most extreme movements and positions are astonishing and sexy. There is also a lot of layers and psychology to the dance numbers as well as they begin with exuberance, and they spiral into chaos as the characters lose their state of mind in the second half.
The characters, who are indeed fully fleshed out include a wide variety of people of all mixes of race, sexuality, and backgrounds. We are introduced to a womanizer David, who claims he’s had sexual encounters with each woman in the dance team, and two other guys that love bragging about sex in the most mundanely hilarious ways; Ivana and Psyche, a couple from Berlin that agree to have an open relationship; Emmanuel, a mother who brought her child to the practice; a brother and sister, that hold a lot of tension towards each other, and we have the D.J. who plays like the caring figure in the film, and each of the characters hold a lot of repressed emotions, prejudices, and other forms of emotional baggage.
What would have been seemed overly ambitious or disastrous on paper, is truly heightened and elevated by Noe’s superb directing skills. He uses a great build up that descends into a nightmare. The first half of the film is playful, alive, and convivial, and once the hallucinogenic drug kicks in it takes the viewer down a journey of disturbed mayhem and endless hysteria.
With the French flag in the background, “Climax” can be viewed as a cautionary tale of how the nation is losing its own identity. The film can also be viewed how polarizing and divided France has been due to division spread by the media, the politicians and the European Union using mandated policies on migration and immigration that always lead nations towards division, separatism, and ultimately authoritarianism.
The film in many ways is structured like the reverse orderly told “Irreversible”, in which that film’s first half was chaos, yet the second half it slowed down and it was harmonious. In “Climax” it begins joyful and ends with punishing and assaulting results. Noe just proves his technical mastery more with this film, while it’s not on the same masterpiece level of “Enter the Void”, or “Irreversible”, the film does tend to get monotonous after a while of so much screaming and hysteria, think Arronofsky’s “Mother”, but maybe not as ridiculously executed.
The only fault of the film is that it feels Noe has no self-control (If he ever did?), but here it gets a little too much where it can lead the viewer down a path of misery porn, which can be a self-parody regressive attribute or redundant commonality of art-house cinema. The film spirals into accusations, screams, shoving and shouting, and then gets even more disturbing as it gets into child endangerment, a woman aborting a woman’s fetus, self-mutilation, and even rape as the camera captures this in nightmarish Dario Argento red lightning while the camera spins around, hurls, and echoes the psychological deterioration of its characters and situations.
All around Noe is indeed a bold filmmaker, both in ideas and technique. He is committed to the idea that filmmaking can be many things, as he merges the visceral with the philosophical, and the sensual with the shock. His films are always aesthetically pleasing, and always disturbing and graphic. He has explored sexual violence with “Irreversible”, intimacy and heartbreak with 3D sex scenes in “Love”, and “Enter the Void” is the most immersive film I ever saw about death, you literally feel like you’re dead watching this film as the camera hovers in time, space, and fragmented memories. The camera even hovers out of the body as if the soul is departing the body. Not many filmmakers have been bold enough to go where Noe has gone, and “Climax” continues Noe’s journey into the human abyss of repulsion and madness.