Fantastic Fest 2018: Climax
Director Gaspar Noé, in his new film Climax, once again takes us through Hell — or, more accurately, what he perceives Hell to be. Noé makes his atheist standing apparent in each of his films — he doesn’t believe in the afterlife, but he believes that Heaven and Hell exist on Earth right now. Irréversible is the prime example of this; Noé begins the film in a nightclub, shooting a chase through rooms like a horror film. Then, following one of the most horrific rape scenes ever put on film, we slowly come back from the abyss, finally reaching a state of nirvana with our two lovers by the film’s end. Climax takes that idea of Hell on Earth and shows us how exactly to get there, with the help of LSD-spiked sangria.
The film opens with a woman, covered in blood, walking aimlessly in pure white snow — out of nothingness comes something; birth, you know. We’re then introduced to a hip-hop dance troupe, a young diverse group of performers who are hot and, of course, eager to dance. Noé’s long takes and ever-floating camera brings even more life to the film’s already spirited dance routines. The cast is made up of real-life dancers with no professional acting experience; luckily what carries them through the film is their natural charisma. Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Atomic Blonde) stars as one of the dancers — a dancer in her own right and all-around talent herself, Noé gives her more to do, physically and emotionally, and she’s 100% committed to the madness, offering what is easily the best performance of her still-flourishing career.
The dance party being held in the dancers’ studio is driven into chaos by the sangria that is spiked with hallucinogens. As soon as they discover they’ve been drugged, they start accusing each other, maddeningly trying to find out who doused their drinks. Add to this — there are several relationship jealousies among the group, one of the dancers is pregnant, and another brought their kid to the party. Noé knows what pieces to place and what screws to turn as the LSD hits each dancers’ system.
Climax’s 96-minute runtime helps cut straight to the bone of the story. There are allusions to French politics, racism, sexism, and gender fluidity; but there’s not enough time spent on each to make one the main thesis of the movie. Noé takes this microcosm of young life and, like a kid with a magnifying glass over an ant, just wants to see it burn.
Enter the Void, to me, remains Noé’s greatest achievement. A visual representation of death, the ultimate trip, that still haunts me to this day. Climax, though, does comes close to that level of unease, once we finally reach the final stages of the mania. The camera turns upside down as one of the dancers tries to drag themselves across, passing through twisted, convulsing bodies. The audience has been with these people for what feels like real-time, experiencing all the horrors that are possible with some acid and a group of mixed personalities. In this way, like few directors working today, Gaspar Noé’s depiction of Hell in Climax is inescapable and unforgettable.