Gaspar Noé is one of those rare filmmakers who polarizes audiences; you either love him or hate him. I fall into the former category, but I understand that his films like Irreversible, Love, or Enter the Void may not be for everyone. If you’re not a fan, you might want to skip this review because Noé has once again created a film that is both disturbing and unapologetically bold.
The film follows about two dozen young dancers, among whom Sofia Boutella stands out as a central character. The rest of the roles are primarily filled by real dancers from Paris and New York. These aspiring modern dancers are preparing for an overseas tour in a remote location, guided by an acclaimed choreographer. Interpersonal relationships among the dancers seem harmonious at first, and the atmosphere is relaxed. The exceptional choreography during the dance numbers is captured in long takes. Just when you think the sensory assault is enough and the plot might finally move along, the horror element kicks in.
The horror stems from the fact that someone spikes the drinks at a party, throwing the dancers into chaos. The ensuing unraveling of emotions and relationships among the group reveals the darker aspects lurking beneath the surface of even the most seemingly decent individuals. The film suggests how thin the line is between a civilized society and the descent into base instincts, mob psychology, and pure chaos.
Comparisons with another controversial filmmaker, Lars von Trier, are inevitable. Both premiered their polarizing new works at Cannes this year, and stories about Noé laughing uproariously while watching Trier’s film Jack are noteworthy. Unlike Trier, who provokes through the presentation of morally repugnant ideas, Noé’s provocation comes from his audacious form and audiovisual execution. Just as with Love and Irreversible, Climax pushes the boundaries of audience endurance. Adding a layer of intrigue, Noé reportedly edited the film just a day before its screening, making its positive reception at Cannes quite surprising.
Benoît Debie’s aggressive cinematography is striking, featuring fearless camera movements and extended shots. These techniques manage to hold the viewer’s attention even during scenes that might otherwise benefit from some editing. The film’s disorienting form is complemented by pulsating electronic music and inventive subtitle work. All of this makes Climax a physically taxing viewing experience that fully exploits the immersive capabilities of cinema. Watching it in a theater is essential; if you don’t have a home setup that can rival a public screening, you’ll miss out on all the nuances of both image and sound. And that would truly be a shame.
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