#Calgaryfilm Correspondence Film Review: Climax

climaxIn Gaspar Noe’s “Climax”, there isn’t much difference between dancing and sex, or life and death for that matter. This is a film about living to the extreme in order to feel alive, and finding that extreme in any way possible whether it’s through dancing, sex, drugs, violence or a combination of all of these. It explores letting go of one’s inhibitions, and finding freedom in that moment, but is also asks if that’s a good thing. Can that sort of freedom come at a price?

“Climax” opens with a series of video interviews on what looks like an 80s throwback television and VCR as we are introduced to the principle cast of the film. They are all sexually promiscuous, multicultural dancers who seem to be auditioning for a dance troupe with a chance to tour America. In the interviews some of them open up about their feelings towards dance, and at times they talk about their sexual preferences holding nothing back.

We now cut to a rehearsal hall, with vibrant colors which for a moment reminded me of an MGM Technicolor musical from the 50s. The camera pans down to the same people in the video as they begin a choreographed dance number that is beautifully realized. The number is energetic and violent accompanied by pulsating beats which blare throughout the rest of the film. The dancers move like living pieces of art contorting their bodies in ways one might find difficult to think possible. It’s an aggressive number, but you get the sense this is what these people live for, even how they live.

Afterwards things slow down, as the camera (which at this point has moved seamlessly through the dance number without a single cut) weaves in and out like a voyeur listening in on everyone as the party begins to start. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves as they taste up the sangria which was prepared by the group’s dance leader Emmanuel (Romain Guilermic). We then settle in to some individual character scenes as Noe cuts back and forth between mostly two-hander conversations within the group. Here they talk and flirt with each other, with sex mostly the main topic of conversation. Everyone is pretty much all bi-curious so one could imagine anyone being fair game in the coupling up department. We do get the hint that a few people in the group have some violent tendencies which may be a precursor of things to come.

It’s about at the 45 minute mark when the gears begin to shift into an entirely different film.  It is revealed someone has spiked the sangria with some LSD and that’s when the small character moments are taken over by a psychedelic drug trip. There will be blood and not everyone will be spared, violence turns to depravity, which turns into tragedy, which then turns into torture and self-mutilation. Even some incest is thrown in as everyone is devolving into a more animalistic behavior. Everything is thrown in but the kitchen sink as the saying goes, however there is a bathroom sink, which someone uses when their hair catches fire.

Noe’s steadicam is unrelenting following the characters through their own versions of hell. Some of them might find solace in sex, while others will find pain in their own actions. There is shock value in this film, a woman who reveals she is pregnant is kicked in the stomach, while a small child gets locked in an electrical room which doesn’t end well. I mention these less as spoilers but more as warnings, this film wants to provoke you, at times its effective, but other times clumsy.

There’s quite a bit of lingering in the film, sometimes it’s with a scene, or a shot, or a certain sequence. I believe it’s Noe’s way of rubbing our noses in his excess, he wants us to look away, he wants to keep the camera on what makes us squirm for an uncomfortable amount of time. As I sat there in my seat,  I couldn’t help but think sometimes Noe looks to be in love with his own style. It’s as if he is so impressed with himself, he can’t help but keep the camera on his own magnificence. Noe has done so many of these films, I feel at this moment he is just feeding his own ego.

Still there is a good reason to fall in love with his style. In the moments the film works, we can tell we are in the hands of a master filmmaker and provocateur. There are so many wonderful fluid moments with the camera which are coupled with a dense sound scape, and highly expressive lighting they bring a boisterous cinematic quality to the proceedings. Then there are the performers who flow through the film as if their dancing never stopped. The standout for me was Sofia Boutella who plays the group’s choreographer. She gives a very unorthodox performance, but she is an actress so aware of her body, she moves as if she is floating through space or on a different plain. If the main purpose in film is to capture motion in real-time then Bouttella and her ensemble create little masterpieces of movement with their bodies which I would say are most compelling parts in this otherwise frenzied film. Had this been an all out musical like the opening number was setting it up to be, this could have been one of the best films of the year.

There is so much to admire with “Climax”, I wish it fully worked for me, but it becomes too repetitive and lost in its own excess. Still I am recommending it for the moments I mentioned above. It’s tempting to live a life in the mind of these dancers, where movement seems to possess us and take us out of our bodies unaware of our inhibitions. But “Climax” shows us that sort of freedom can cause chaos in our wake. However it might be in that chaos we can truly be alive. Do we stop dancing, or keep going till the music stops? Approach life and this film at your own risk.

3 stars out of 4


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