The works of Gaspar Noé, who debuted with “I Stand Alone” (1998), are definitely not something you can casually watch on Sunday afternoon. I still remember well that infamous rape scene and other equally provocative moments in his second film “Irréversible” (2002), which is one of those disturbing controversial films which I hope I will not have to watch again. I also remember a long series of gaudy and hallucinogenic moments in his next film “Enter the Void” (2009), which fascinated me a bit at first but then eventually bored me a lot while becoming one of the most unpleasant movie experiences I had during the 2010s.
Although I skipped “Love” (2015) for good reasons, I became a little curious about Noé’s latest film “Climax” after reading some fairly positive reports from the Cannes Film Festival early in last year. As far as I discerned from these reports, the movie looked like something I could endure, and I was also quite amused by one of its promotional taglines: You Despised “I Stand Alone”. You Hated “Irréversible”. You Loathed “Enter the Void”. You Cursed “Love”. Now Try “Climax.”
To my little surprise, the first half of “Climax” turns out to be more accessible and enjoyable than “Irréversible” and “Enter the Void”. As bold and provocative as we can expect from Noé, the movie throws us into the sheer zeal and excitement of music and dance during its first half, and I even found myself shaking my head a little to its soundtrack during my viewing at last night. Of course, the movie is eventually turned into something quite disturbing and shocking during its second half, but it still holds our attention at least, and I sort of admire how daringly it hurls itself from jubilant euphoria to hellish nightmare for jolting and unnerving us as much as it can.
After a series of banal video interviews shown on a TV which is incidentally surrounded by the video cassettes of a number of notable movies such as “Un chien andalou” (1929), “Suspiria” (1977), and “Possession” (1981), the movie moves onto a fantastic long-take dance sequence unfolded within some abandoned boarding school building. After their three-day rehearsal in this place, a bunch of young dancers are ready to have some fun and excitement as dancing together to the music played by their DJ, and we accordingly get several exhilarating moments as the handheld camera of cinematographer Benoît Debie, who has been one of Noé’s longtime collaborators, fluidly and steadily moves here and there around these young dancers.
We later get to know a bit about these young dancers via a series of following conversation scenes. As the mood is loosened further with music and sangria, their conversations come to revolve around their personal relationships, and there is a small interesting moment between two sibling characters as they clash a little with each other on what has been going on between one of them and a mutual friend of theirs.
Anyway, the mood still feels friendly and lively around the characters in the film, and we gladly go along with that as music and dance continue with more fun and excitement. At one point, one of them tries to put her little son to sleep after he had a pretty good time with his mother’s colleagues, and that is probably the sweetest moment in the film.
After another impressive long-take dance sequence followed by the main title (The end credits are shown at the beginning of the film, by the way), the situation suddenly becomes quite alarming. The characters in the movie begin to feel queasy one by one, and then they belatedly come to realize that somebody added lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to their sangria. As their intoxicated status gets worse minute by minute, they are naturally thrown into more panic and confusion, and, not so surprisingly, that leads to chaos and mayhem beyond their control.
Around that narrative point, the movie shifts itself to a far darker mode for reflecting its characters’ unstable and agitated state of mind. While its lighting takes a nightmarish tone as required, the camera work becomes more frantic to generate more dizziness as demanded, and, of course, there are a string of striking moments of cruelty and madness which are as stupefying as you can expect from Noé.
This is not a pleasant experience at all to say the least, but I must admit that the movie engaged me more than “Irréversible” and “Enter the Void” at least. While it is rather superficial in terms of story and characters (According to the IMDB trivia, its screenplay was only 5 pages long), its first half surely excited and delighted me with its vivid, electrifying presentation of music and dance, and I also appreciated the considerable efforts from Sofia Boutella, who has been notable since her supporting turn in “Kingsman: Secret Agent” (2014), and the other cast members of the movie. During the second half, they willingly throw themselves into the dark, nihilistic pit of lunacy and violence, and I particularly appreciate a certain moment which is clearly influenced by “Possession”.
On the whole, “Climax”, which received the Art Cinema Award when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, is a fairly impressive piece of work packed with enough mood and style, so I recommend you to give it a chance, but I must emphasize that you should be aware of what it intends to do before watching it. Please do not complain later that I did not warn you in advance.