Running Time: 96 minutes
Written and Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Featuring: Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile,Roman Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle,Thea Carla Schøtt
Title Card:“Death is an extraordinary experience.”
The latest film from Argentinian (somewhat surrealist) director Gaspar Noé is released on DVD this month, that being the genre defying thriller “Climax” (2018) that for all its surreal storytelling style is actually Noé’s most ‘normal’ film to date, which is saying more about his previous efforts than this unique, mesmerizing and original piece of storytelling than anything else. There is no doubt at all that all of Noé’s work is in one way designed to push the boundaries of not only storytelling but cinema itself which he has done effectively throughout his career of narrative film, in fact I would go so far as to say that whilst I love his movies I would only view them once as many are visceral to such an extent that I would choose not to revisit them. To say that there are few people working today with such a unique voice would be an understatement, the only other person I can think of that matches his form is Lars von Trier (possibly Michael Winterbottom has some of his provocation as well) who also has made similarly themed films, like Noé has embraced more linear storytelling for what purpose remains a mystery. It could be that Noé would like to reach a larger audience as well as work with more mainstream talent or it could be the challenge for him to combine his unique way of working with more traditional narratives, whatever the reason it has to be said that his latest film, “Climax” is possibly his greatest achievement to date as it keeps one foot in his past while having a definite eye on the future, whatever that may hold for him.
“Climax” is an audacious film that combines many elements on what is an obviously limited budget that walks a tightrope, as it needs to feel authentic which it does, but this authenticity means that there would have been a high degree of planning as well as failure before the end product ends up on the screen. Do not be fooled, it may look like much of this was made up on the spot but there is an element of detail that is breathtaking. The dance number that comes after the somewhat unique opening is fearless in its direction as well as its content, it is eye opening as it is filmed in one take with a myriad number of styles as well as twenty dancers all working together as well as being as unique as they can be. Shot in a single-take, the dance routine is more than just choreographed steps. The styles include voguing, an improvisational dance form that mixes exaggerated model poses with mime-like movement; waacking, characterized by rapid arm movements; and krumping, an aggressive and emotional dance born on the streets of South L.A.
“Climax” has been written as well as directed by Gaspar Noé who also operates the camera that like his others films seemingly has a life of its own, moving, tilting as well as rotating at will following not only the loose plot, narrative but also the characters who all have their own stories before and after the drugs take effect. Noé has wisely made some important decisions that have had nothing but positive impacts on this new film, they are that he trusted dancers to be able to act, he has listened to his star performer, the fantastic Sofia Boutella and lastly he has employed a great choreographer, Nina McNeely. What is impressive is that the entire film was loosely plotted in a five-page outline that was then improvised into what is seen onscreen. There are many elements to the film, dance being one of them, the other is the feeling that there is no plot, which could be said to be true, however that is not the case at all. This is a film that attempts to capture what dance is, how it unfolds as well as the idea that dance, like life just moves forward with nobody really knowing what comes next or when it ends. It also speaks to what is important in life; also how we all as humans interact with each other and that ‘normality’ is just a word. One need only witness the complex relationships in the film before the drugs take over; while behaviours become extreme the dynamics remain the same. As with his previous work Noé balances shock with story to juxtapose images that create unease which is one of his primary tools in cinema, however it is much more moderated here than ever before, perhaps the sign of a maturing director, much like von Trier has become as he ages through life.
“Climax” takes place in 1996, and focuses on the experiences of a dance troupe in a remote lodge surrounded by snowy emptiness, where late night dance battles take a dark turn after someone spikes the sangria with LSD. Noé takes his time establishing the vibrancy of the setting before tearing it apart: an ominous opening that finds one woman crawling through the snow, the ostensible final girl in the horror movie to come, followed by a prolonged introduction of the colorful ensemble in a series of audition tapes.
This is a huge cast and its to Noé’s credit that he is able to not only give all of them their own moments but that he is able to accomplish this in such a short time frame. Not only that we as an audience are easily able to identify each character as well as their individual traits before they are exposed to the LSD. In fact even after the drugs are taken the audience is able to clearly see what is going with each one as well as the fate that awaits them in the final half of the film. What is impressive with the entire cast is that they are all primarily dancers so acting is not something that comes naturally in the first instance, which is impressive to say the least.
Gaspar Noé has a style as a director there is no doubt, he is not only a fan of the long take but (in fact extremely long take), but he also likes to move the camera in what must be called unconventional ways, mostly on a type of gimbal which can not only be unnerving but confusing as well. What Noé has done on past films is to use this style but he has been unable to marry it to a worthy script or idea to produce something not only original but also good enough that it sticks in the minds of audiences without a shock factor which he has relied on far too much, which to me is a great shame as he is obviously a unique filmmaker. What is fantastic about “Climax” is that Noé has seemingly been able to have his cake and eat it to, with a plot that complements the narrative with a central premise that he has been able to marry with his camera style, while being original, at times shocking which is a part of his DNA at this stage.
The other aspect of Noé’s filmmaking was that it always seemed to be his vision and no one else’s, however it is obvious that with “Climax” he has had to compromise with not only his actor/dancers but also with the employment of an experienced cinematographer which for me opens up the entire film in terms of performance and execution, it feels authentic to me even though I know little about dance.
If you are a fan of Noé’s I cannot believe that you would not like this film, if you have been turned off by his aggressive shocking style then this might turn you into an admirer of his, it is different from his previous work in that it shows a maturity that comes after working for so long much like his peers. The great element about Noé is that he seems to create work no one else even comes close to, he comments on life, love, sex, politics and other aspects of life that others do not come close to, that is why admire him, he has no fear. I recommend this movie and it is easy to rewatch so it should be added to any collection, it is released on DVD in New Zealand but if you can grab it on Blu-ray, it will not disappoint.
01 Cerrone: “Supernature (Instrumental Climax Edit)”
02 Patrick Hernandez: “Born to Be Alive (Instrumental New Version)”
03 M/A/R/R/S: “Pump up the Volume (USA Radio Edit)”
04 Dopplereffekt: “Superior Race”
05 Chris Carter: “Solidit (Climax Edit)”
06 Dopplereffekt: “Technic 1200”
07 Kiddy Smile: “Dickmatized”
08 Thomas Bangalter: “What to Do?”
09 Thomas Bangalter: “Sangria”
10 Neon: “Voices”
11 Suburban Knights: “The World’s”
12 Aphex Twin: “Windowlicker”
13 Wild Planet: “Electron”
14 Soft Cell: “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go (Extended)”
15 Giorgio Moroder: “Utopia – Me Giorgio”
16 Thibaut Barbillon: “Angie (Instrumental Cover)”
17 CoH Plays Cosey: “Mad”
18 Gary Numan: “Trois Gymnopedies (First Movement)”