With his fifth feature film, the confrontational bad boy French-Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé finally shows he can make a tighter film that doesn’t compromise his style, even if the substance remains lacking. After the endurance test that was Love, I made good on my promise in my review of that film (Love is flawed in almost every cinematic way possible — a film review) to fill in my gap that was Enter the Void. I didn’t even have to bother with the Netflix version, as I was blessed to catch a 35mm print of the film. I could see why it came recommended and was appreciated even among some Noé cynics. However, despite a grounding first act that finally showed the writer-director could create rich characters, I still didn’t think the bloated, redundant thing much of a great film. His new film Climax has a similar issue, even if its a bit tighter.
Early in the movie, Noé finally creates something dazzling — breathtaking, even — that doesn’t rely on shock value. But this is a movie that I have read categorized as a “musical horror.” The fact that the film is capped with a dizzying, drawn out Grand Guignol that recalls the opening sequence of Irreversible (2002), albeit without anything that reaches that film’s gruesomeness, goes to show that Noé still can’t reach beyond his same old tricks. His usual fans will love Climax, but more importantly, it has a quality to impress his detractors, as well. The uninitiated, however, may find it exploitative.
The film’s most impressive feat comes when the team of dancers at the heart of the story freestyle in what seems to be a single take to a 10-miunte-plus instrumental remix of Cerrone’s “Supernature.” The film’s production notes credit Noé for the cinematography, whose camera glides slowly around and above the dancers, who are mostly non-actors. Benoît Debie, his usual cinematographer, is given credit for lighting the scene. It’s a visceral moment that warmed the chill in this film critic’s veins. That Noé also spends time fleshing out these characters before a bad LSD trip turns them against each other, is also a warm highlight of the film. During a tightly edited series of static two shots, rich dialogue reveals tensions and desires among the group. It’s not a ponderously long film, and no one dominates the screen, though actress Sofia Boutella gets top billing.
Many will trip out on the film’s opening, which begins with the end credits (again, Irreversible) and one of the characters screaming and bloody staggering across the snow in a distant aerial shot. It is followed by a series of interviews with the characters interviewing for the dance school on a VHS tape (the film takes place the mid-1990s), which is framed by stacks of spine-out cult VHS tapes. Talk about pandering to his audience.
Most will come for that brutal final scene, which of course features Noé’s serpentine camera movements that often twists the frame upside down to hammer upon the obvious chaos (don’t see it drunk or stoned, you might throw up). His flashy camera use aside, Climax‘s highlights are its intense dance sequences presented without edits. Dance sticklers will see these sequences as sloppy at times, recalling moments in the recent remake of Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino re-imagines Suspiria with mixed results), but Noé’s unblinking camera often captures serendipitous moments of transcendental awe. The interaction with the dancers and the camera is often jaw-dropping in its enthralling quality, which speaks to the skills of the dancers and Noé’s excellent eye, and if there is anything excellent we can agree about Noé it is his eye for camera placement.
Climax runs 96 minutes, is in English and French with English subtitles and is not rated. It opens Friday, March 15, in our South Florida area in Miami-Dade County at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, AMC Aventura 24 and AMC Sunset Place 24. In Broward County, it plays at the Classic Gateway Theatre and Cinemark Paradise 24. A24 invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.