01st Sep2018

Frightfest 2018: ‘Climax’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, Thea Carla Schott, Sharleen Temple, Lea Vlamos, Alaia Alsafir, Kendall Mugler, Lakdhar Dridi, Adrien, Sissoko, Mamadou Bathily, Alou Sidibe, Ashley Biscette, Vince Galliot Cumant | Written and Directed by Gaspar Noé


The posters for Gaspar Noé’s Climax proudly trumpet that “it’s Fame directed by the Marquis de Sade with a Steadicam”, a gift of a quote from the Variety review. Joyfully, that line turns out to be surprisingly accurate, and Climax proves that French cinema’s enfant terrible has lost none of his power to shock or enthrall.

In typically perverse Noé fashion, Climax opens with a post-credits sting, an overhead shot in which a bloodied woman staggers through the snow before collapsing, her twitching movements making snow angels. It then cuts to the end credits (including multiple music track listings) and a number of captions, one of which declares “This is a French film and proud of it”. That’s followed by some character introductions, framed as VHS auditions being watched on a TV on a shelf, deliberately sandwiched between a pile of books and a pile of films on VHS (things like Possession, Suspiria and Querelle). Through the interviews we get a sense of the characters – they are all young dancers, varying in ethnicity, gender and sexual persuasion, who are auditioning for a dance troupe that will tour America.

After that, the film gets down to business. Noé cuts to a rehearsal space (it looks like a village hall, though there are a number of adjoining rooms and corridors) where the dancers perform a breath-takingly energetic routine in a single take, their limbs twirling above their heads in seemingly impossible contortions. When they take a break, we get to know some of the characters a little better, including bisexual choreographer Selva (Sofia Boutella); cocky white dancer David (Romain Guillermic), who seems to be on a mission to sleep with every female dancer in the group; cuddly DJ Daddy (French DJ Kiddy Smile); spaced-out blondes Psyche (Thea Carla Schott) and Ivana (Sharleen Temple); and troupe manager Emmanuelle (Claude Gajan Maull), who has brought her young son Tito (Vince Galliot Cumant) to the rehearsal with her.

However, things quickly go wrong. As the dancers start to loosen up and party, post-rehearsal, it becomes apparent that someone has spiked the communal sangria and everyone gradually succumbs to the worst trip imaginable. As the evening descends into out-and-out chaos, there are a number of horrific incidents, beginning with accidental public urination and spiralling rapidly into sex, violence and self-mutilation.

Throughout Climax, Noé’s camera prowls through the venue, following different characters, often in lengthy single takes. There are moments that are darkly funny (such as Selva getting her hands trapped in her tights) and moments that are both shocking and deeply upsetting. Let’s just say that Noé’s view of human nature hasn’t exactly mellowed over the years and it’s strongly suggested that the drugs reduce everyone to their most basic instincts, with largely unpalatable results.

Needless to say, it’s an extremely intense experience. There’s misery and tension and horror and the whole thing is pretty much relentless, though the pacing does drag a little towards the end. However, it’s impossible to deny the artistry on display, from the extraordinary dance moves to the stunning camerawork and the perfectly chosen soundtrack that ranges from Daft Punk to Angie by the Rolling Stones. At a certain point, Noé’s camera turns upside down and stays there for minutes on end, disorienting the viewer and making it seem like the world itself has been upended. You emerge from the film blinking and gasping for air, relieved that trip has finally ended, but exhilarated by Noé’s stunning achievement. Just make sure you have a nerve steadier close at hand afterwards.

**** 4/5

Climax screened at Arrow Video Frightfest on Monday August 27th.


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