I suppose Climax is technically a 2018 release, but due to limited exposure I am marking it as a 2019 film (seeing how you’d damn near must have seen it at a film festival before now).
This is a new one by notorious French bad boy Gaspar Noe, who has some impressive undertakings under his belt. This one follows a group of dance students who are drugged against their will and the night descends into hell.
Noe’s films are nothing if not interesting, and this one is no exception. We open with credits in reverse, lengthy interviews with the dancers, and an amazing dance sequence that is done in one long shot. The ideas of chaos and order are on display, and while the dancers are flailing their bodies and moving in a disorienting way it seem more ordered then when the troupe breaks for a party. Gossip abounds and we see hatred, envy, and suspicion among all of the dancers.
Once they have consumed enough sangria (spiked with LSD) the film breaks in half (complete with credits, again) and the madness truly starts. Everything becomes sheer chaos as everyone is out of control. The film becomes an audio-visual spectacle as we can do nothing but watch as these people unravel.
As with many of Noe’s films, violence strikes like lightning and the horrifying repercussions are present in the background for the rest of the narrative. Death strikes suddenly—sometimes offscreen and we are left picking up the pieces.
At the end of the film, three police officers enter the old school and can’t seem to make heads or tails of what they are seeing—and they act as an appropriate stand-in for the audience. What we just witnessed is hard to describe and will certainly be a film that will leave you thinking for many days.
If I had a major complaint, it is that Noe gets in his own way. The nauseating camera from Irreversible and Enter the Void makes its unwelcome return in the last twenty minutes as we are subject to an upside-down red-lit orgy of chaos. The new Suspiria did a similar thing a lot better as we could actually see what the hell was going on. Noe deliberately left as us silent witnesses to this for so long in the film it is a bummer that the last act ends up being a bit more of a chore than an experience.
Issues of sexuality and consent are complicated in this narrative—to put it lightly. We get to overhear lengthy conversations from the male dancers about forcing themselves onto women—but their conversations always stay on that horrible line between sex-jokes and sex-assault (I for one tend to see it as the latter). However, Noe has done interesting things with consent before, and wants the viewer to interrogate these scenes. Here, they may have run a little long to be as effective as it just gets a little old. We are meant to see these men as despicable—so why spend so long on the scene?
Yet, issues of consent in a group of people unwillingly drugged by LSD adds an additional wrinkle to this. I’m not sure any of the people involved could give consent, which complicates several scenes here.
People are monstrous, and all it takes is one little push for it all to fall apart. We have seen this argument from Noe before, and while Climax is a fresh take on the idea, it still harkens back to his previous work. I’d like to see him venture a little further into something in the future.
Fans of Noe will love it. People who have not seen Noe before are going to be bothered, but this is probably his most accessible film (granted, this is a long cry from anything mainstream). While I didn’t like the last twenty minutes (a not insignificant amount for a 90-minute film) and did want something more, this is one of the only films in 2019 that has actually made me think about it as I watched. A tighter ending and this would be one of his best, as of now it is certainly worth seeing. However, caveat emptor if you’re not sure what you’re getting yourself into.