By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Climax is one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen in a while. Visually captivating, engaging, and truly horrifying at times.
Based on a true story and directed by the controversial Gaspar Noe (Love, Enter the Void), the elaborately titled Climax sees a party in rural France go awry after someone spikes the sangria.
It’s no surprise that cinema bad-boy Gaspar Noe is behind such a project. After all, the director is known for pushing the boundaries of sex, drugs and cinema, even if it isn’t always successful. In many ways, Climax feels like the deranged love-child of the director’s previous two films, the pornographic (and 3D) Love and the psychedelic (and also drug fueled) Enter the Void.
The film opens with a haunting aerial shot of a girl crawling through the snow, seemingly dying, before we cut to interviews with various dancers about their love of the craft and their hopes and dreams for the future. It’s a short but adequate introduction to the many characters played by a young and vibrant cast, led by Sofia Boutella (Atomic Blonde), in what is sure to be one of her most memorable roles to date.
What follows is a spectacular string of dance sequences and fly-on-the-wall conversations, which despite the standard party talk dialogue, are dripping with subtext and political satire. Almost as if this was Noe’s way of commenting on the naivety and false hope of the ’90s, and French nationalism. There’s even a character hell-bent on moving to America because everything there is supposedly ‘better’.
Once the sangria comes out though, the characters gradually descend into a dance-fuelled realm of madness, even a young boy falls victim to the high. Noe’s subjective close-ups and stylised long-takes take you on a playful game of ‘tag’ which follows multiple characters attempting to navigate their way through the party, not to mention their psychosis.
The most noteworthy of perspectives is that of Selva, played by the remarkable Sofia Boutella, who was actually a trained dancer before she was an actress. The cerebral freak-out Selva endures is incredibly realistic, back-breaking and all round nauseating, made more intense only by the invasive cinematography and the sounds of Aphex Twin’s ‘Windowlicker’. The soundtrack plays a significant role here and there’s no doubt that it will be in high rotation when the film gets a wider release.
As expected from a Gaspar Noe film though, Climax is a little pretentious at times. The oddly timed credits are a nice touch until the arrogant repetition of the director’s name becomes too much. It reminded me of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘logo’ in the opening credits The Neon Demon. Why? It’s exhausting, showy and laughable.
Then there’s the flashy chapter markers – ‘insightful’ quotes like ‘Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure’, which probably sound vaguely interesting scribbled on Noe’s restaurant napkins, but only serve to distract and annoy in the overall film.
Luckily though, this superbly crafted and sickening trip to hell doesn’t lose any of its appeal, even with the ridiculous texts. Gaspar Noe has created an original and unique take on the drug film, I can’t remember seeing one this memorable since Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.
It’s a mesmerising experience, and a brutal assault on the senses, shot in 15 days in February if you can believe it! It’s a miracle this film even made it to festivals like Cannes and KVIFF this year. You’re either going to love it or hate it, and you’ll probably never look at sangria the same way again.
Climax will be in Czech cinemas this fall thanks to Aerofilms.
Photo: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary