Review: Climax

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.

 

David Prendeville

96 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Climax is released 21st September 2018


 

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Review: Love

 

DIR/WRI: Gaspar Noé • Pro: Brahim Chaoiu, Vincent Maravel, Gaspar Noé, Rodrigo Teixeira, Edouard Weil • ED: Denis Bedlow, Gaspar Noé  • DOP: Benoit Debie • Mus: Pascal Mayer • CAST: Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, Klara Kristin

Relentless provocateur Gaspar Noé returns to our screens with this sexually-explicit opus which follows an American film student living in Paris, Murphy (Glusman) and his doomed love affair with the depressive, fiery, sexually experimental Elektra (Muyock) and his subsequent fall into parenthood and domesticity with another woman Omi (Kristin), whom he does not love. We piece together the story of Murphy and Elektra’s stormy affair through flashbacks to episodes in their time together, intercut with the present, as Murphy muses how he’s gotten himself into this situation.

Since the film’s premiere at Cannes much has been made of the film’s sexual frankness and the fact that it was shot and is presented in 3D.The sex and 3D in fact turn out to be the least notable aspects on show here. The former is pervasive and hardcore, but this is hardly anything new in arthouse cinema. The idea of the director of Enter the Void making a film in 3D certainly seemed like an interesting proposition but for the most part the 3D effects seem unnecessary. There is the odd moment when Noé uses it interestingly, generally in scenes outside of the bedroom, such as a fiery argument between Murphy and Elektra in the back of a taxi and also in a couple of nightclub scenes in which the effect captures an atmosphere and dreaminess that seems fresh. For the most part the effect is used in a subtle way and Noe resists the temptation to fling things at the audience, apart from one shot in which Murphy ejaculates out into the crowd. Well, this is a Gaspar Noé film after all.

Noé himself has stated (as does Murphy, who is clearly a surrogate for Noé in the film) that what he wanted to do was to make a film exploring sexual sentimentality. Indeed, Noé allows far more sweetness and sentimentality into Love than encountered in his previous, aggressive pictures I Stand Alone, Irreversible and Enter the Void. Noé himself has compared it to Love to Blue is the Warmest Colour in its emotional and physical frankness. There are times in the film when this works and Noé does capture something raw, honest, sad and, indeed, beautiful. Unfortunately, however, these moments are far too few and instead the viewer most endure lots of silliness, indulgences, wretched dialogue and indifferent acting on its way to climax.

Noé has argued there is a continued conservative attitude to showing sex in films and has suggested to really examine romance one must examine the sexual side of it in the same manner as all other things. This is a fair point and his use of Blue is the Warmest Colour as an example of a counterpoint is a good one in that it did achieve these goals. In that infinitely superior picture the viewer was submerged into all aspects of the couple’s relationship. This was achieved through an intense attention to detail of which explicit sex was a part of, but also through the relatability of the characters, and through profoundly brilliant acting from the leads.

After a decent, sober start it does not take long for Love to plunge headlong into pure male fantasy. Poor Murphy’s problems with Elektra, you see, stem from them having a threesome with their 17-year-old neighbour Omi. They do this because its Elektra’s biggest sexual fantasy to have sex with a man and another girl. Of course. Following this, when Elektra is away for the weekend, Murphy just can’t help himself once more and has to have sex with Omi again, this time by himself, at which point he impregnates her and so ends his romance with the love of his life.

To be fair to Noé, he never suggests that Murphy is a character we should necessarily like but it is a grave mistake on his part to allow what could have been an interesting, moving look at lost love to become so far removed from its intentions by indulging in such (ahem) hard to swallow contrivances. And it’s not just here that the film emits dubious and depressingly conservative attitudes to sex and gender. There is an ear-bleedingly banal conversation about abortion, not to mention a tasteless and unnecessary scene in which Elektra coaxes Murphy into having (another) threesome  – this time with a transsexual prostitute – which is played somewhat for laughs. At one point early on Murphy also states that he fears if he leaves Omi she might turn his son ‘gay’.

There are other problems beyond the weary conservatism on show. Noé seems determined to shoehorn as much of himself as he possibly can into the film. It’s already been noted that Murphy is a surrogate for Noé himself: he’s an aspiring filmmaker with a taste for the controversial, his apartment is adorned with posters for Salo and Birth of a Nation, his favourite film is 2001 (which is also Noé’s). On top of this Murphy and Omi name their child Gaspar and, most hilariously, Noé himself turns up in a bad wig as an art dealer ex-boyfriend of Elektra’s. There’s a strong whiff of Tarantino at his most indulgent about this aimless self-reflexivity. There’s nothing wrong with a filmmaker being self-referential but it needs to be done with wit or to a purpose, both of which are lacking here.

There is no question, however, that Noé is an extremely talented filmmaker. He has exhibited great formal innovation in his previous works. It is the opinion of this writer, however, that his ideas are not as good as his practise. Irreversible is a powerfully realised film but that too was somewhat bogged down by simplistic philosophies and ideologies. Enter the Void – his best film – managed to transcend some on the nose dialogue, due to the sheer originality of its form.

Love is a deeply frustrating film. For all the seemingly endless flaws it has, it still retains some unquestionably brilliant flourishes and moments. Noé continues to experiment with the idea of a cinema of subjectivity. The blinking of the main character’s point of view in Enter the Void is used here once again to break through time. For example Murphy might one moment be in a room with Omi, the image will blink like a person would, and all of a sudden he will be in a different place and time, most likely with Elektra. This beautifully conjures up the mosaic like nature of memory and its role in human relationships and experiences.

It’s also beautifully shot by Noé regular Benoit Debie, it features some terrific use of music and sound, and at its best it really does touch upon a kind of insanity and tenderness all too rarely seen in films about romance. It’s just such a shame then that it is all weighed down so heavily by Noé’s adolescent world-view.

 

David Prendeville

18A
135 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Love is released 20th November 2015

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Enter the Void

Enter the Void

DIR: Gaspar Noé • WRI: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Gaspar Noé • PRO: Pierre Buffin, Olivier Delbosc, Vincent Maraval, Marc Missonier, Gaspar Noé • DOP: Benoît Debie • ED: Marc Boucrot, Gaspar Noé • DES: Jean-Andre Carriere, Kikup Ohta • CAST: Paz de la Huerta, Nathaniel Brown, Cyril Roy

In a nutshell, Gaspar Noé’s often exasperating but always visionary Enter the Void follows a man on his journey from his last hours on earth, through his death and his journey into the afterlife. The first twenty minutes or so follows Oscar as he takes a hit of DMT (a very potent hallucinogen) and goes on a visually arresting, if slightly over-long trip. He then leaves his house to give his friend a stash of drugs he owes him only to be chased and shot by police when he gets there. From there, his death and afterlife mirrors the philosophies behind the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which theorises (I’m sure I’m putting this very crudely) that one’s soul floats around, watching the world without them until they figure out how to leave their old life behind and move on.

To recommend this film to audiences is perhaps a wrong turn, as it is bound to strike most as indulgent, immoral, needlessly vulgar and uncomfortable (particularly in Oscar’s tendency to watch his sister having sex whenever possible). However, with suitably forewarning, this is a film that any self-respecting cinephile should make a point of seeing, and especially on the big screen.

Noé proved with Irreversible that he was a technical genius and that his eye for original visuals knows no bounds. He also proved that he wasn’t afraid to shock his audience and has quite the nasty streak running through his stories. In both visual content and shock factor, Irreversible was merely a precursor to his magnum opus Enter the Void. With an endless stream of nasty images and depressingly dead-eyed unpleasantness, it is difficult to feel anything for any of the characters, but none of this dampens the impact of Noé’s probing, soaring, spectoral camera as it floats in and out of lives and deaths. I don’t know if it has ever been done before but the camera-as-spirit conceit is highly effective and one which puts a very interesting moral spin on the voyeurism of this film. Noé takes voyeurism to extreme, as Oscar’s spirit jumps in and out of bodies in often very unusual and even shocking circumstances.

The trouble with Enter the Void is that it is difficult sometimes to know whether to laugh or be shocked. Some of the content is pretty outrageous and even quite silly. However, for every roll of the eyes, there is a gasp of astonishment in terms of the intensity of the cinematic experience. Having now seen this film twice (it premiered at JDIFF 2010 in February), I must say I was pleased to see some superfluous scenes towards the end cut out, giving the film a somewhat more streamlined effect.

Your tolerance for Noé’s self-indulgence will most likely decide your level of enjoyment of this, a film I imagine will very much divide audiences, but it is at the very least a visual milestone that should be seen on as big a screen as possible (though somehow I can’t see this one gracing Screen 1 in the Savoy anytime soon). A flawed piece, but one flooded with moments of genius.

Charlene Lydon

Enter the Void is released on 24th September 2010

Enter the Void Official Website


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