Modern dance and LSD combine in this lethal and relentless psychedelic nightmare that never lets up.
Dir. Gaspar Noé
2018 | France/Belgium | Drama/Horror/Music | 95 mins | 2.35:1 | French & English
R21 (passed clean) for disturbing content involving a combination of drug use, violent behavior and strong sexuality, and for language and some graphic nudity
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub
Plot: French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD.
Awards: Won C.I.C.A.E. Award (Cannes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures
Subject Matter: Controversial
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
(Reviewed at Singapore Film Society’s screening)
Climax, like most films by Gaspar Noé, is difficult to like or hate, but one could possibly like and hate it at the same time, which is a remarkable feeling, and I think what makes his ‘extreme cinema’ so fascinating yet repulsive. His latest, his fifth feature after a string of controversial works over the last 20 years, including Irreversible (2002) and Enter the Void (2009), could be his most well-intentioned film.
I mean it to be that Climax very much exists to serenade us with psychedelic pleasures but also gives us a nightmarish experience to behold—incidentally Noé has called his work a roller coaster turning into a ghost train. Its purpose is strong, and the filmmaking sensibility is consistent and unwavering, and one can feel it all the way from the first beat to the last.
The beating heart of Noé’s film and the pulsating rhythm that he achieves, not to mention the protracted sequences of ecstasy and depravity in a claustrophobic space, gives a sense of a self-contained world threatening to implode and cave in, whilst we wait for the characters to explode in uncontrollable ways within that bubble. This implosion-explosion dialectic contributes to Climax being a tough watch, though I imagine it to be far more comfortable a viewing than Noé’s earlier works.
The film was written, shot and edited in only four months, in order to meet the Cannes Film Festival deadline.
His sensorial and sensual approach imbues the film with strong, stylised visuals that you just can’t look away. Most wonderful, of course, is the dizzying camerawork, where its playfulness toys with the characters’ collective predicaments by swinging from one person to the next. In this choreographed (or more accurately, improvised) chaos, Noé finds a few ‘main’ folks to latch onto, like a camera spectre that haunts them, particularly Selva (played by Sofia Boutella, who starred with Tom Cruise in the atrocious The Mummy).
Boutella and cast are superb, channelling the essence of how people might behave if they were terribly drugged, which is the point of the film—a cautionary tale of how humans, by their own doing, could regress into a state of animalistic, conscience-less beings. Climax is a lethal and relentless film, its combination of modern dance and LSD is inspiring—not that anyone would dare try, but that art can reveal so much and so carefreely about human nature. It also features a brilliant choreographed opening long take that lasts more than 10 minutes.