ClimaxReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/31/19 06:20:26
Gaspar Noé just can't resist pushing it too far, can he? He's just got to looking for the edge of a movie being sexy and thrilling and dangerous and horrific to the point where some failsafe in the brain kicks in and the viewer disengages, so the thing that should have been seared into the viewer's brain is set aside as bad-boy posturing. Ah, well, "Climax" is a heck of a thing until that happens.Noé dumps a lot on the audience at first, introducing it to a couple dozen characters via videotaped testimonials. They're a dance troupe, about to go on a tour of France and America, and as the scene jumps to a party, they've certainly got the moves. They've also got just as much drama going on as you might expect, horny as only a group of people in their twenties with the bodies of top athletes who have spent every waking hour the past few months demonstrating their physicality and artistic ambitions to each other can be. That's before it becomes clear that someone has dosed the sangria with LSD and the drive to discover who did it (focusing on the two who haven't been drinking and/or hitting the harder stuff all night) only adds to the rest of their emotions going into overdrive.
There are two or three extended sequence that are just this group dancing as their DJ Daddy (Kiddy Smile) lays down some beats and you could pull a lot of people into this movie under false pretenses by cutting a trailer that mostly draws from that. They're energetic stretches where Noé is playful, such as when he has cinematographer Benoît Debie shoot one entirely from above, highlighting the extended limbs and whipping hair of one dancer surrounded by a scrum rather than the precise synchronization of the Busby Berkeley numbers that shot is usually associated with. The opener is a long take that not only shows everyone off but eventually is kind of intriguing for being a long shot and for the way it presents the dancers, with moments where someone will hit the ground and the viewer can't be quite sure whether that's choreography or the cast being really good at recovery and Noé just accepting that as the price of not cutting.
In a different movie built around this sort of setting, it might be the start of a look at perfection versus spontaneity in art, but Noé doesn't really focus on dance or even life in the arts in general outside of those moments, other than instructor Emmanuelle (Claude Gajan Maull) talking a bit about how her pregnancy redirected her. Instead Noé breaks things up into a lot of one-on-one conversations, often about lusting after some third party or bragging about their sexual prowess, and the form of it is interesting - a hard swing to static head-on two-shots sandwiched between the inventive and entirely visual bits - but it often highlights how thin some of these characters and their storylines are, or how there are just too many of them. The ones that show signs of becoming interesting will be sidelined for just long enough for the viewer to notice that it's been a while since the film has circled back in that direction, even after the drugs start kicking in and Noé starts to push the gang back together and start confronting each other.
Of course, you don't always need that much to make a memorable character. It's worth noting that even in a movie where the whole cast is sexy French folks whose dance training means every move commands attention, not just her, Sofia Boutella stands out; her Selva is magnetic and commanding from the start but becomes more fascinating as her self-control is taken away, panicked and infuriated and unable to stop spiraling until she's raging and incoherent, tearing up the scenery. It's a captivating performance even if it sometimes seems the least connected to an actual story, demonstrating (as is true with many of the characters) that you don't necessarily need to know everything that has happened to a person to know who they are. There's not a weak link to be found anywhere, although the sheer size of the cast means that few get the opportunity to make such an impression and even fewer can grab it to such an extent.
Despite all the talent on display, viewers might very well find themselves burned out and disengaged by the end. Noé has spent much of his career as a provocateur and flouting rules, but there's a weird familiarity and desperation to it here. Oh, he's starting by running the end credits backwards again, like he did in Irreversible (though I guess you could argue he's subverting his own habitual subversion by not making this a backward-moving flashback story like that or Love); he's throwing quotations up on the screen in big neon letters, maybe upside down to make them more difficult to read. You'd better believe that as the scene devolves into chaos, the lighting turns all red and the camera swoops around, often upside down to show just how crazy things have become. And the ultimate cynicism of the film's message - even pretty, talented people can be shockingly selfish and awful once some of the inhibitions are taken off - is not exactly surprising in this day and age, and just showing it doesn't accomplish much. There's no story around the incident or thoughts on causes and counters offered, so what's the point?What does the provocateur want to provoke here becomes the question, and does he have any new ways to shock people who have seen as Gaspar Noé film before? "Climax" is often striking and exciting to watch, but Noé's tendency to overindulge can sometimes be too much, especially here when a viewer can easily be worn out before the anticlimactic ending.
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