CLIMAX, France, 2018. Starring Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila, Kiddy Smile. Directed by Gaspar Noe. 95 minutes. Rated MA (Strong thees, drug use, sex and coarse language.)
This is a film principally for those who are fans of the writer-director, originally from Argentina but working in France for many decades, Gaspar Noe. For years he has had a reputation as an “enfant terrible”, making an international impression with his 2003 drama of sexual violence, the screenplay working in backwards time, Irreversible. Amongst his other films are the significantly named, Into the Void, as well as the 3-D erotic film, Love.
Climax is not a film for those not interested in experimental content and cinema style and for those who do not know Gaspar Noe and his themes and treatment.
The setting is an unused building outside Paris where a group of young men and women, some black, some white, more women than men, gather for a contemporary dance rehearsal. There is quite some exhilaration about the dancing, the energy, the vitality, the talent. Much of it is filmed from above, offering quite a different impression of dance, pounding music, athletic moves.
When the dancers one for a break, sangria, spiced by LSD (there are angry suspicions but it is not clear who did this), is brought in and most drink it. And this is where curiosity and prurience come in, the director inviting us to share the experience of those affected by the drugs, using all kinds of cinematic techniques, again filming from above, long takes, the lights going out and only the emergency red light staying on (an infernal impression of black and red). At times the camera goes skewiff, lying on the floor, filming upside down (including a written explanation at one stage).
The principal effect of the drug and the trip is bewilderment and anger, scenes of bitter aggression, puzzle, suspicions, men and women behaving badly and stupidly. There is some brutally frank talk about sexual experience. A mother whose son is present in the building locks him in the power cupboard for safety – and then loses the key. As might be expected, there is some erotic passion, but that is only part of the overall experience.
Some have suggested that Noe’s films are not to be watched but to be experienced and there is quite some truth in that. While some of the camera work is inventive, there is a great deal in the latter part of the film where characters are almost indistinguishable, the black and red is too dark, and audience attention being whirled around in the drug frenzy – – but does go on and on.
Idiosyncratically, most of the credits come on in the middle of the first part of the film. At the end, the police arrive, checking whether people are alive or dead, suggesting that however interesting drug experience might be and what it lets loose, in real life, some order needs to be restored.
The title, Climax, then comes up large and in yellow – and out the audience walks into the fresh air to contemplate what they have just been through.
Madman Released December 6th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.