The newest film from the notorious Gaspar Noé was so critically acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival that the director himself could not believe it. Climax opens with a closing sequence which is then followed by the final credits. The director of films like Irreversible or Love has often shown his interest in telling non-linear stories which take a lot of time to fall into place. This time he offers us probably one of the most insane parties ever depicted on screen.
Climax is, in a very twisted way, a horror musical (with stress put on ‘horror’ rather than ‘musical’), following a, supposedly based on true events, party at a dance camp. The viewer initially meets the characters through a series of quick interviews. Its a group of hedonists that sound like characters we have met in former films from the Franco-Argentine provocateur. Their interests revolve around dance, sex, drugs and lack of commitment. A snowstorm is raging outside their hotel so there is nothing left but doing all of the above.
What for some viewers might be shocking is the fact that apart from Sofia Boutella (known from the Step Up franchise) all of the young dancers hired by Noé are non-professional actors. Yet, they are all great at portraying a group trance. Part of that is because of the absolutely stunning dance sequences. These scenes scream with sex, violence and desire, and Noé’s long-time cinematographer Benoît Debie does a great job at depicting it. The images are frenetic and often shot at absurdly weird angles which undoubtedly correspond to the character’s state of mind. Sometimes the camera floats between various dancers without any particular interest. This works brilliantly as Noé has the actors use their bodies rather than their voices to speak.
Yet the true horror starts when the camera picks up on specific dancers and looks at their slow descent into drug-induced madness. Sofia Boutella’s character is at the heart of the film, as she is the most sane of them all. Perhaps watching the events from her perspective makes the entire story even more terrifying.
Apart from acting and cinematography, the third secret ingredient in Noé’s chef-d’oeuvre is the soundtrack. With tracks from Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, Giorgio Moroder, Soft Cell and The Rolling Stones the author proves that he is one of the greatest DJ’s among the directors. He brilliantly uses the music to amplify the already disturbing atmosphere of the film. Sometimes it seems like the music is actually played in the characters’s heads rather than by the DJ in the hotel.
Climax is, first and foremost, a study of basic human desires, which are nourished by a certain spiked sangria drank by everyone at the party. The party goes on and on and seems to never end, the music uninterruptedly flows (even when the electricity goes down, the DJ takes out his ghetto blaster and carries on playing) and the characters lose themselves to dance. In one of the first sequences we see piles of VHS’s (Suspiria, Possession and Un Chien Andalou among them) and books (Nietzsche and Freud). All of those references should give you a sufficient idea as to what one of the most controversial directors of our time has cooked this time.