Climax - 2019
Director(s): Gaspar Noé
Writer(s): Gaspar Noé
Cinematography by: Benoît Debie
Editor(s): Gaspar Noé and Denis Bedlow
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Kiddy Smile, Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull, Sarah Belala, Giselle Palmer, Thea Carla Schott, Adrien Sissoko and Souheila Yacoub
The musical and dance genre has seen a resurgence in the last decade, with La La Land receiving critical praise, and The Greatest Showman destroying the box office, to name a couple. So, it takes a particular mind, and some may argue a twisted one, like Gaspar Noé (Enter the Void and Irréversible) to use this wave as a vehicle for his latest experimental film and turn it into one of the most intense experiences I've had in a movie theater in a long time. Let's talk about it.
The story takes place in the mid-90s, and it follows a dance troupe in the middle of a big tour. After meeting the group via audition tapes, we are dropped at the end of rehearsal, as we witness the eclectic collection of dance styles and personalities joined by their love for the art and the rhythm of the beat. Once rehearsal is out of the way the after party begins, where almost everyone is drinking from the bowls of sangria set out. The mood quickly shifts, as the group realizes that the sangria is laced with LSD, leading them to accuse and attack certain members. The LSD takes hold of the entire night, culminating in an orgy of violence, dance, sex, and primal screams, that seem to have no end in sight.
Gaspar Noé's use of dance and joy at the beginning of the film lulls the audience into a sense of safety, as you almost forget the premise of the movie due to the hypnotic nature of the camera movement, editing, and the performers. A lot of praise needs to be given to choreographer Nina McNeely and the dancers, as they created this world of fun and passion that feed into the horror and tension once the drugs kicked in.
The camera movement, the cinematography, and the editing are used almost as weapons against the audience as they give this world a feeling of uncertainty and impending doom for all the characters. Multiple long takes make you yearn for a cut, as you desperately want a break from the anarchy that has taken over this group, with the longest clocking in at around forty minutes. Noé follows the dancers from the main room through the corridors showing the different ways the drug has taken over other members of the group, jumping from one horror to the other without skipping a beat. The storylines are fluid as there is not a specific lead, but the ones that take a bit of the bulk of the runtime are; Selva (Boutella) the manager of the group trying to understand why everything has gone wrong - while trying to fight off the effects of the drug. Emmanuelle (Gajan-Maull) trying to save her son that she brought along and the central mystery of who spiked the sangria.
Cinematographer Benoît Debie use of color was perfection since the main room is covered in the color red, warning both the audience and the group of the danger inside. The use of overhead shots was fantastic, from the opening shot of the bloodied woman running through the snow, signaling the doom to come, and the circle dance showcasing the enclosed nature of the situation as the group surrounded each dancer. I loved how the circle kept getting smaller and smaller until everyone melted into a mosh pit of dance. But, if we are talking shots, I cannot close this paragraph without mentioning the unsettling shift of perspective when we reach the apex of the night, as the camera flips and everything is upside down. The mix of color, lighting, music, sounds, violence, sex, and dance create an unyielding attack to the senses as you can barely make out the upside-down insanity that is unfolding before your eyes. My heart was racing; I was nervous, confused and a little scared. This is a horror movie in all sense of the word.
The performances are good, as they feel real and raw. That is because Noé allowed them to come up with their dialogue with little to no restrictions since the story had a beginning and an end in his head, the middle was up for grabs. Sofia Boutella is fantastic in her role, as she has a magnetic presence on screen, drawing your eyes towards her even amongst the chaos. There is a sequence in where the camera flows behind her and tilts sideways as the drug is taking control over her, and she tries to fight it off through almost an interpretive dance, slamming her body against walls, clawing at her skin and yelling at the top of her lungs. Loved seeing Boutella given a chance to do something else outside of "badass" female character, even if she is fantastic in those roles.
Climax is not for everyone, and it is a film that is beyond hard to recommend, despite how much I enjoyed my discomforting experience. To say Noé is an acquired taste would be understating a fact, but his mastery over the craft of filmmaking is something that cannot be denied, and it is the core that draws any moviegoer into the theater for an experience only he can provide. Horror movies come in all shapes and sizes, and this tertiary painting of dance, lust, and violence will make a home in your brain for days to come.
Climax is Why I Love Movies.
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