These kids are not alright. You’re not too old. Their music is too loud and their drugs are too potent. To be fair, most of the contraband consumed this night was done so involuntarily. Someone spiked the sangria with some unusually strong LSD, turning their rehearsal party into an urban Francophone Lord of the Flies. Brace yourself, because Gaspar Noé has returned to assault viewers’ senses yet again with Climax, which opens today in New York.
It was sort of a rehearsal for these dancers chosen to represent France in an American competition, but anytime they get together there will be sexual tension. The opening number is actually pretty impressive (it was actually choreographed), but from there on out, everyone free dances. All vestiges of social order also start to breakdown when they realize how badly they have been dosed. Initially, they suspect Emmanuelle, because she brought the sangria, but the unruly troupe backs down when they realize she drank too and is now in the same boat. Rather disturbingly, so has her young son Tito. They will turn their rage on two more troupe members, including Lou, who claims she did not imbibe, because she is pregnant. At this point, things really get ugly.
Climax is a total Gaspar Noé film. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, then you should probably avoid it at all costs. Noé has always put the extreme in the New French Extremity, so expect some lurid, shocking stuff. Not to be spoilery, but bad things befall children and pregnant women in Climax. He also revisits one of his favorite themes—incest—albeit almost as an afterthought.
Ironically, Climax could inadvertently serve as an explosive critique of multiculturalism. The dancers are mostly the children of immigrants, of a variety of ethnicities, spanning the entire spectrum of sexual identities. Alas, when their ids are unleashed, they become violent and hateful. It is almost like the ghost of old man Le Pen hovers over the film, whispering “I told you so.”
On a technical level, Climax is quite impressive. Noé’s long takes and restless camera work are quite effective, bordering on the hypnotic. This really isn’t an actor’s showcase. Sofia Boutella is the only established thesp. The rest of the ensemble are professional dancers. However, they are all quite convincing going stark raving mad.
During Enter the Void, Noé essentially approximated the visual and emotional sensations of a bad trip. In Climax, he forces us to witness the maelstrom of bedlam from the claustrophobic perspective of an undrugged bystander, presumably like Lou. It certainly is a memorable experience—memorably unpleasant, but undoubtedly Noé would consider any such visceral response to be a success.
Honestly, your intrepid online film critic just wanted to take a shower after it was over—and not from working up a sweat getting down to the vintage house and electronica music. By this point, you should know full well whether Climax is a film for you or not, so inhale or shun accordingly when it opens today (3/1) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center.