Climax (CIFF 2018)

Climax opens with some talking-head interviews with its characters and then cuts to a tremendous dance routine that is shot in one take and is such a visual delight that you almost want the film’s director, Gaspar Noé, to just make a straight-up dance movie. He’s always been talented with the camera and he gets to show off a lot here. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on your perspective—he’s also a provocateur, and you know that Climax isn’t going to be a movie about a dance troupe rehearsing and everything goes well.

Instead, after this rather timid—but wonderful, truly—opening, the film becomes nightmarish. The characters, of which there are at least 15, begin to party. They soon discover their drinks were laced with LSD, and they took a lot. The rest of the film follows the aftermath of this, and it sometimes gets ugly. Not visually, at least not usually, but the actions of the characters are not pretty. And I think that has to be point: we’re shown something beautiful and are then forced to watch it slowly be dismantled by the very individuals who worked so hard to make it great in the first place.

Climax is (mostly) filmed in a faux-one-take style, where edits are cleverly disguised so as to appear hidden. It follows characters from room to room and is almost always on the move. It sometimes gets dizzying but it’s never unengaging—and the film has enough energy to get it to the finish line. It’s often (intentionally) unpleasant, occasionally funny, and also unlike almost anything else out there. It’s not the most entertaining movie out there, but it’s certainly an experience.

Conclusion: Climax is a visual delight, even if what you’re watching isn’t always pleasant, content-wise.

Recommendation: You know what you’re getting when you go into a Gaspar Noé movie. Plan accordingly.

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