By Bradley Lane
Climax is the newest feature film from French-Argentinian provocateur and director Gaspar Noe. Anyone who has seen just a single film directed by Noe will more than likely either decry him as a hack devoid of artistic value or praise him as a visionary. Noe has been polarizing critics and audiences alike since his feature-length debut, I Stand Alone, in 1998. His films explore the depths of human’s capacity for evil and pain through experimental filmmaking techniques (helping pioneer the current film movement, French Extremism). Needless to say, his films are not for everyone. However, as a piece of art, Climax is a triumph and deserves to be viewed, discussed and contemplated for days after you leave the theater.
Climax takes place on a cold winter night in 1996 France. An incredibly distinguished group of dancers are just finishing their rehearsal in a Catholic schoolhouse they rented out as a temporary studio before they make their journey to America to compete on the national level. After a final run-through of their routine they decide to party before leaving in the morning. However, their celebration becomes a nightmare when it becomes apparent that their sangria had been spiked with potent LSD.
Noe sets the stage for his drug-fueled horror show with pinpoint accuracy. Each and every character has clear motivations, desires and fears before any of the crazy begins so that when the drugs begin to take effect all of what might seem like insanity is rooted in previously established characterization. This becomes all the more impressive when you learn that initially Noe only worked off of a mere five-page script and most of the first act dialogue was improvisation by the cast members. The actors were encouraged to help develop their characters with Noe to create a more realistic and immersive cast of characters, of which there are nearly 20.
Visually, every frame of Climax is visceral, intense and beautiful. Noe frequently employs the use of immaculately choreographed long takes that will make your jaw drop. Often not cutting for what could have easily been 10- to 15-minute-long sequences. Additionally, what has now become a Noe trademark, the film powerfully distorts and confuses audience perspective with over the head shots, shots low to the ground and inverted and even shots that spin the camera a full 360 degrees. If you haven’t seen a Noe film before it is likely to be distracting, but ultimately works to perfectly marry form to content.
In any other director’s hands an extended drug sequence would be filled with played out visual tropes: blurred visuals, hard to distinguish action and fast editing. Noe rejects common film language to force the audience to see exactly what is happening in sometimes excruciating detail. This sort of omniscient third person view makes the audience less of a participant in their horror, and more like a helpless onlooker making its impact all the more forceful.
Climax is an exercise in pure cinematic tension. It is a deeply disturbing film and should only be viewed by mature audiences with proper audience discretion but is one of the most affecting movies in recent memory.