DIR/WRI: Gaspar Noe • DOP: Benoit Debie • ED: Denis Bedlow, Gaspar Noe • DES: Jean Rabasse • PRO: Richard Grandpierre, Vincent Maraval, Eduoard Weil • CAST: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Thea Carla Schott, Giselle Palmer
A group of dancers, choreographed by Selva (Boutella), gather together in an abandoned school in order to rehearse prior to an American tour. Things are going well until they start to party. They soon realise that somebody has drugged the sangria they have been drinking and they all succumb to a collective psychosis of paranoia and violence.
Gaspar Noe returns to our screens with this simultaneously seductive and horrifying original that fuses dance and extreme psychological horror to winning effect. In keeping with the mischievous nature of the piece, Noe announces his influences in an ingenious early sequence in which he introduces the characters via audition tapes. The small TV screen from which their auditions play are surrounded by a host of VHS boxes (apparently from Noe’s own personal collection), as well as various books related to film and philosophy. Amongst the film titles namechecked are Possession, Querelle and Un Chien Andalou. This is a film in which cine-literacy is worn as a badge of honour, with Noe exuberantly suggesting that if you get his references you probably get him as a filmmaker.
Isabelle Adjani’s infamous metro breakdown sequence in Zulawski’s Possession is once again explicitly referenced in a scene in which Boutella’s Selva has a dance-infused meltdown after getting her hands seemingly stuck in her tights. The physicality of Adjani’s performance in the scene being referenced could even have been the inspiration for the central conceit of dance’s potential as an expression of psychosis. The Fassbinder and Bunuel references tell us more about Noe’s aims in both practise and social commentary. He has stated that part of his desire in making the film was to do something quickly, in the vein of Fassbinder. Indeed it is positively mind-boggling that this dazzling picture was shot in just 15 days. Noe said recently in Sight and Sound that he was hoping he might carry on in the Fassbinder vein and complete three or four other films before the end the year, something which he then lamented ‘unfortunately is very unlikely to happen’.
An air of Bunuelian social satire also hangs over Climax, which is probably Noe’s most political work. Noe’s nihilistic worldview is here used to good effect as he satirises society and humanity’s inability to work together or simply get along for any sustained period. The film proclaims itself at the beginning as: ‘a French film and proud of it’, as Noe seems to making barbed digs at nationalism and the idea of a National Cinema. He is also cheekily framing the action within the context of it representing French society or even society in general as a whole. There is also a winking engagement with mortality. The climax of the title refers very much to death, decay and destruction.
True to form, Noe remains committed to his central premise of fusing dance and horror. There is not a single scene which does not feature a track from the outstanding soundtrack which features everything from Aphex Twin to Daft Punk to The Rolling Stones. Always a filmmaker in tune with the formal capabilities of his medium, Noe utilises every directorial trick in his armoury to create an overwhelming, singular atmosphere. The film begins with the end credits, the opening credits happen half-way through the film. Benoit Debie’s camera frequently turns on its head with some scenes shot completely upside down. The picture is littered with tongue in cheek intertitles which state such nuggets as: ‘Life is a unique opportunity’ and ‘Death is an extraordinary experience’.
Noe counteracts his directorial flourishes with moments of formal restraint – a long sequence sees him shift from different two shots of characters talking to each other, setting up these disparate characters’ world-views and desires. An overhead take of a slightly aggressive dance sequence subsequent to this, renders the dance moves hypnotic and abstract by way of the stillness of the frame.
This is a masterfully realised vision. Whether or not someone is open to Noe’s considerable virtues as a filmmaker or not, there is no denying the cinema is a far more interesting place with him in it. After the disappointing Love, it’s great to see Noe return to form. It is also heartening that in amongst the high quantity of vanilla film titles being released weekly there is something as formally adventurous and assured as this.
Consistently visceral, frequently playful and by turns beautiful and disturbing. This is a deliriously cinematic romp that demands to be seen on the big screen.