Dancers Trip in the Most Extraordinarily Horrific Way
DIRECTED BY GASPAR NOÉ/2019 (U.S. Theatrical Release)
Dire and euphoric, Gaspar Noé’s Climax gyrates to a grind then grinds to a pulp. Sooner than later, all will learn that getting down with the sickness is the only true way to get down. It’s the story (but barely) of a night in the life of an experimental French dance troupe. They nail their major number- a truly euphoric thing to behold. Noé captures it all with beautiful, precise virtuosity in one sweeping, perfect, single shot- a shot that continues well after the dancing stops.
Said shot goes on as dancers disembark from the group, pair off, begin to decompress, and the backstabbing begins. Watching this bold group of artists dance, one wants to get to know every one of them. Before this epic shot cuts, we can’t get far enough away from most of them. But, short of walking out on the film, good luck with that. Everyone is contained in this dank throbbing place together; sweaty, sticky, conniving, horny, high. This only one of several such looooong takes to gratingly grace Climax. An orchestrated undoing if there ever was one.
Noé’s film is virtuoso brazen take-no-prisoners auteurism.
AND SO IT CAME TO PASS: Someone spiked the sangria with LSD, and we all must pay the price. Whodunnit????????? Who cares. What’s done is done, and done, and done and done and done and done anddone. It won’t stop, as a matter of fact. Who’s in it? Sofia Boutella, the Mummy herself. Who else? Lots of spectacular dancers with no shame and possibly no limits. Who are they? Good question. Though one should know that Gaspar Noé cast members, as of late, don’t typically emerge into wider-spread fame. Oh, these players are in it, alright. They’re deep in it. But for all their talent and full-on commitment, don’t necessarily expect this ensemble to scatter or reconvene. Daring cast of Climax, meet the daring cast of Love. (That most immediate previous work being a completely different, way more myopic and far less effective piece, even as it is as much of a singularly disturbing experience. Noé trades out graphic, real sex for swirly night-terror cacophony. And somehow Climax is the healthier film?? It is).
Noé’s film is virtuoso brazen take-no-prisoners auteurism. Or, as a local film critic colleague so earnestly put it, it’s not for everyone. That, ladies and germy germs, may be the understatement of the century. Fact is, maybe it shouldn’t be for anyone. Long before it’s over, all filmgoers are filmgoners. Though, maybe it helps that the end of Climax arrives at its very beginning. That’s right, there’s a nonlinear quality that flares up dynamically in certain moments, though mostly, it’s a straight-ahead decent into a nightmare.
The longer it goes on (and this is the shortest film the director has made in quite some time, a semi-merciful ninety-seven minutes), the more torturously unrelenting it becomes; a dizzy stumble through a grungy labyrinthine layout of hallways and dressing rooms adjacent to the main dance space. The lighting is poor yet oppressive, incandescent minimalism overtaken by reddish/pinkish/bluish/greenish gel filters. The unending thumping house beat of the dance floor bleed through all walls and doors, proving to be as inescapable as the trip itself. And just when it’s looking like this is place might be a tomb best left sealed, a child is place in danger. There is panicked screaming and desperate, unheard pleas from him. Climax is not for the faint of heart in more ways than one.
The most twisted, grotesque, mind-altering dance troupe-based film since Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, from three months ago. That’s right- if you are interested in seeing some truly innovative dance on film these days, be prepared to suffer through some really horrific directorial sensory assaults. Climax, though, is the better movie, by some distance. Mileage will of course vary greatly, though there’s no denying Noé’s edge as a fully original work. Not that being a remake should count against a film. But Climax ultimately stands alone, dancing by itself, with itself, and extraordinarily so.
If Climax can claim any relatives beyond the Gaspar Noé filmography, and maybe Lynch in terms of unrelenting vibe, it is Jean-Luc Godard. Meddling with and viciously deconstructing film form as some sort of warped love for it has been Godard’s unyielding modus operandi from the start. Noé is no different in terms of such sheer outward formative audacity. He is all about grabbing you and shaking you and reminding you that this immersive dread vision you find yourself within is him, all him, and whatever you think of it, you cannot escape the accomplishment of it. Credits run at the wrong time. Titles appear barely legible, and flash at you in rapid fire, including the musicians responsible for the included source songs right alongside the actors. In different typefaces and sizes, its Sofia Boutella/Romain Guillermic/Souheila Yacoub/Kiddy Smile/Giorgio Moroder/Daft Punk/The Rolling Stones. All are equal in the controlled chaos. As proclaimed early on, this is a French film- and proud of it!!!
By the end, it will be unconscious, upside-down on the floor in a pile of its own vomit. But the getting there is a brilliant whirlwind of go-for-broke rejection of conventional audience sensibilities, boundaries and at times, patience. It doesn’t work to label Climax an anti-drug film in any conventional sense, since it basically becomes one. But, no one, having seen this, will want to venture within fifty feet of LSD, maybe even sangria. And everyone, having seen this, will be unable to unsee it in their unblinking mind’s eye.