Photo: IFFR
by Christopher Bourne Film Horizon Line

Climax | Gaspar Noe

April 11, 2019

If nothing else, Gaspar Noe‘s Climax suggests that, should someone ever decide to revive the Step Up franchise, Noe might be a name producers could consider. Anchored by a couple of impressively filmed and staged dance scenes, Climax features two dozen dancers in its cast (including a former dancer, Sofia Boutella, who’s also the only professional actor here). This multicultural terpsichorean mass writhes with clashing, exuberantly mashed-together styles of ecstatic movement — all in front of a disco-glittery French flag. The camera initially faces the actors/dancers head-on, but eventually floats up over their heads, in a kind of ‘90s rave-like version of Busby Berkeley. In between dance sequences, Noe inserts little vignettes that morsel-out details of the dancers’ lives, and their personalities, through one-on-one conversations. (With a pronounced focus on sexual desire and predilection.)

Initially a surprisingly sedate human comedy, this being a Gaspar Noe film, shit gets cray: A punchbowl of sangria laced with LSD incites Lord of the Flies-level madness involving violence, recrimination, screaming, knife-slashing, lesbian make-outs, incest, and suicide. All this is punctuated by Noe’s trademark woozy, endless tracking shots and swooping, nausea-inducing camerawork — and set to a non-stop classic EDM soundtrack by the likes of Daft Punk, Aphex Twin, Cerrone, M/A/R/R/S, Soft Cell, and others. Also, there’s Noe’s typical structural/graphical gimmicks: end credits at the beginning, opening titles in the middle, sub-Godardian aphorisms (“LIFE IS A COLLECTIVE IMPOSSIBILITY”). In the end, the film isn’t saying much more than ‘don’t do drugs, kids!’ But though many unpleasant things happen, Climax isn’t an unpleasant watch. And at a lean 95 minutes, it’s a big improvement over bloated, diminishing-return epics like Enter the Void and Love.

Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 3.