Review: Gaspar Noe’s Climax is a vision of hell stuck in limbo

CLIMAX (Gaspar Noe). 96 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 1) at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West). See listing. Rating:.


CLIMAX (Gaspar Noe). 96 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 1) at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West). See listing. Rating: NN

Gaspar Noes quick and dirty movie about a group of Parisian voguers, krumpers and waackers who unknowingly ingest LSD and go insane is a comment on French society, on drugs, on artistic drive and on youth culture. What it isnt: a movie that leaves much time for contemplation.

Instead, the France-based Argentinian filmmaker essentially pours all his ideas into a blender, along with some seizure-inducing title sequences and heart-racing house and disco music, and presses mix.

Shot in 15 days, largely improvised and featuring a mostly amateur cast, Climax is cinema at its most viscerally and delightfully confrontational. The director establishes the films improvisational nature in a prelude-type sequence in which the dancers are interviewed about their motivation. Among the points of discussion are dance as lifeblood and gateway to international notoriety.

The action then moves to an abandoned school in 1996 where the troupe is rehearsing to a juiced-up version of Cerrones disco classic Supernature with a bedazzled Tricolour flag as the backdrop. The group includes underground stars like DJ/vocalist Kiddy Smile, voguer Kendall Mugler and double-jointed battle dancer Romain Guillermic. Atomic Blondes Sofia Boutella as choreographer Selva and Souheila Yacoub as troubled dancer Lou are the only professional actors in the cast.

The rowdy rehearsal spills into a party and everyone breaks off into pairs to gossip and talk about personal drama and the others theyd like to fuck. Unbeknownst to all, the sangria theyre sipping is laced with acid and after a six-minute sequence of the dancers taking turns at the centre of a circle thrillingly shot from a birds eye view things go full-on Lord Of The Flies.

What unfolds is hyper-individualism amplified to the max. Paranoid accusations quickly segue into violence and extremely bad decisions. Unlike most films about dance troupes, theres only the faintest sense of a familial camaraderie or even insularity among the performers. The way the gossiping scenes are shot suggests a pre-existing fragmentation that contrasts the unity of the dance scenes. So it hardly comes as a surprise when its every person for themselves when the drugs kick in.

The descent into stylized insanity is fun to watch, but less interesting for the way relationships play out than how everything looks while its happening. The moments when cinematographer Benoit Debies nightmarish LEDs and twisting camerawork gel with the dancers movement is when Climax truly feels mind altering.

A seemingly straightforward sequence in which Boutella has a gradual, movement-based freakout in a hallway to the distant sounds of Aphex Twins Windowlicker conveys Noes cautionary drugs-and-booze-will-fuck-you-up message quite effectively.

Less interesting are the various story progressions. The physicality Boutella brings to her role feels wasted on the obligatory girl-on-girl pot of gold at the end of her acid rainbow. Anything you think you can see coming a mile away happens. Camera moves and choreographer Nina McNeelys Fosse-esque inflections in the dance scenes are riffed on later in drug-induced scenes, but conveying the experience of a bad trip through movement gradually takes a back seat to boring histrionics. The upside-down finale of hyper close-ups bathed in red lights looks cool, but is frustratingly anticlimactic.

Noe saves the most disturbing developments for a mother and son and a brother and sister. If only these characters ended up anywhere interesting or unpredictable. Climax could have been a provocative commentary on how groups of people i.e. queer people, people of colour, women that should band together can instead turn on one other. Of course the power of Noe movies are mostly in the sensory experiences he creates, but the thinness of the characters gradually saps this bad trip of its badness.

Climax is a vision of hell stuck in limbo.

@kevinritchie

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