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Films I Neglected To Review: This Is The End
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Climax" and "Time for Ilhan."

We have all seen lazily written film reviews in which the author tries to put across the point that the movie in question is kinda weird by claiming that it is like some superficially similar title ''on acid.'' (Of course, now is the point where some will rush off to scour my archives in the hopes that I have succumbed to that temptation as well so that they can feel superior.) In the case of ''Climax,'' the latest cinematic provocation from Gaspar Noe, the man behind such controversial works as ''I Stand Alone,'' ''Irreversible'' and ''Enter the Void,'' however, anyone referring to it as ''Step Up'' on acid is being not so much lazy as direct and to the point in describing his latest and perhaps wildest effort to date. For those familiar with his work, it starts off on a familiar note with the sight of a bleeding woman crawling through the snow before collapsing being immediately followed by all the end credits running backwards. From there, we are introduced to the roughly 20 members of a French dance troupe, first through a series of videotaped interviews in which they talk about their aspirations and an upcoming tour and then through an electrifying rehearsal of a routine choreographed to Cerrone's ''Supernatural,'' a seemingly chaotic but intricately staged combination of different dance moves and styles that instantly deserves a place on the list of the great film dance sequences to come along in a long time. After rehearsal, the group lets its collective hair down with an all-night party at the remote building that they are using as a rehearsal space but things soon take a turn for the strange when it turns out that the communal batch of sangria that most of them have been drinking has been spiked with a powerful form of LSD. As the drug kicks in and the music continues to throb, the seemingly tight-knit group devolves into chaos as some begin violently accusing others of being responsible for the dosing, others using the newly relaxed inhibitions to act on their basest impulses and a few continuing to dance and twirl around, seemingly oblivious to the ever-increasing chaos surrounding them. (The story is supposedly based on a real-life incident that happened to a French dance company in 1996.)

Those viewers who has actually seen one of Noe's previous efforts will not be so oblivious and will greet each new development by trying to imagine just how grotesque things might get and then seeing if he manages to exceed their worst thoughts--after meeting one dancer whose interest in his sister, another member of the troupe, seems more than a bit odd, viewers find themselves contemplating whether it would be less hideous if he murdered her or, as he clearly want to do, have sex with her. (Those return viewers might also consider the fact that this is the second time that Noe has posited the murder/incest conundrum in one of his works.) That said, this is perhaps the most playful of Noe's films to date--''playful'' being an extremely relative term in this caseóand is perhaps the first to demonstrate that he has an actual sense of humor about himself and his work. From the way that he literally announces his influences this time around via the labels of videocassettes framing the television showing the interview segments to the way that he plays around with our dire expectations of the horrors in store, he seems energized in a way that has no been evident in his earlier films that helps to keep it from sinking into complete bleakness and despair. With the exception of Sofia Boutella, all of the performers here are dancers with little acting experience and while they may not be thespians of the highest order, they do create a more convincing depiction of a dance troupe that might have been achieved with actors who couldn't dance. (Boutella is no ringer--she was a street dancer before turning to acting and can still bust a move, especially in one standout moment clearly designed as an homage to Isabelle Adjaniís infamous subway freakout in ''Possession.'') ''Climax'' is clearly not for all people--even though it is perhaps his most accessible work to date--and I confess that when I left the theater after the screening, it was with a throbbing headache. Despite that, I found myself thinking that even though I have admired Noe's past films to one degree or another, this was perhaps the first one that I could see myself voluntarily sitting through again someday. I also found myself thinking that if the DJ had carried even a single Grateful Dead album to throw on and chill out to instead of the relentless EDM tunes, numerous lives and psyches could have been saved.

In a bit of extremely fortuitous timing, ''Time for Ilhan,'' a new documentary about groundbreaking Somali-American politician Ilhan Omar has just now arrived in theaters. Although now in Congress, Norah Shapiro's documentary follows Ilhan, who came to the U.S. with her father at the age of 12 and who had previously been a community organizer, as she embarks on her very first campaign for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016 in a district with a racially diverse population that leans so heavily Democratic that the Republicans donít even bother to go to the effort to field a candidate. If she wins, it would mark the first time that a person of Somali descent has ever been elected to any U.S. legislative office. Her competitors are incumbent Phylis Kahn, who has held the seat for 41 years, and Mohamud Noor, another Somali whose presence in the race threatens to split support among the Somali population among gender lines and ensure Kahnís reelection. Even when she does--Spoiler Alert--triumph and win the primary, a cloud arrives in the form of baseless accusations levied by a right-wing blogger inspired by prejudices surrounding her heritage and Muslim faith Even when that gets taken care of and she heads to her assured victory on Election Day, her triumph is overshadowed by the victory of Donald Trump and his anti-immigration agenda.

While not exactly a hard and penetrating look at Ilhan, ''Time for Ilhan'' is still more than an extended bit of hagiography. She comes across throughout as a smart and charismatic political mind whose interest in the people that she hopes to serve feels like more than mere lip service designed to get votes. She many be a novice to politics but as this film proves, especially in a sequence when she goes up against Noor, who has dropped out of the race but refuses to throw his support to her, she clearly has the strength and resolve to not step down from a fight. The film also provides viewers with a direct view of the nuts-and-bolts of a grassroots political campaign in the modern election age that could be shown in many political science classes. Even though it seems to end on a note of despair with the Trump election, it turns things around during an end-credit montage that illustrates the astonishing number of women who were themselves roused to action by running for office themselves. Because she is currently a source of controversy due to remarks made during her first days as a member of Congress that some have deemed to be anti-semitic, the very idea of seeing ''Time for Ilhan'' may be a non-starter for many but those who do give it a chance should find it both eye-opening and ultimately inspiring.

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originally posted: 03/08/19 03:57:01
last updated: 03/08/19 04:00:12
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