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"Climax" Review

Unlike fellow art house film provocateur Lars Von Trier, France-based Argentinian Gaspar Noé is lesser known to all but the most left-of-the-dial cinephiles, having made only five feature films in 20 years. The only one of his films I've seen is Irreversible, his 2002 sophomore effort which most people know due to its Memento-style structure (where it begins at the end of the story and each successive scene happens chronologically before) and the notorious scenes where a man is graphically murdered with a fire extinguisher in the opening scene and where Monica Bellucci is raped in an excruciatingly long single take. It's a good movie, but rather rough stuff. 

Prior to Climax, Noé's previous film was Love, which was on Netflix at the same time as Judd Apatow's series of the same name, which surely led to some people who were looking for a light rom-com co-starring Gillian Jacobs (Brita from Community) to be confronted with a dimly-lit opening scene of unsimulated sexual activity. HBO it wasn't! (And it was theatrically presented in 3D!)

So with the introduction of who would make such a movie as Climax out of the way, here is what happens in a movie which has this as its IMDB synopsis: "French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD."

  • A woman is seen from high above staggering through the snow before collapsing.
  • We then see a bunch of videos of people talking about their dance career aspirations filmed on a old TV screen.
  • The end credits roll in reverse off the top of the screen.
  • In an unbroken shot, all the dancers who were interviewed do a loosely-choreographed dance sequence like a line up at a rave. Lots of krumping and flailing about.
  • Afterwards they drink sangria and we get fragments of obviously improvised dialog where pairs of dancers discuss who they want to have sex with and other banal topics.
  • Then the cast members names flash on the screen in wildly formatted fonts - Noé's name appears several times - and we get another dance number shot from above which renders the spastic motions boring because all dimension is missing. Busby Berkeley this ain't!
  • Then the drugs kick in and everyone proceeds to freak out, accusing each other of being the culprit, throwing one person out in the cold, leading to people having sex or trying to kill each other, with plenty of screaming from everyone.
  • The next morning, those who aren't dead are cuddled up with whomever they paired off with.

There is actually less plot to it than the bullet points may suggest. There's some dancing, a lot of talking, then it becomes a nightmare shown in (what I've read is) a 43-minute uncut shot. (Usually there are points where you can tell they've stitch segments together (like in 1917), but here it could actually have gone down as one bonkers Steadicam move through murkily-lit hallways bathed in lurid reds and sickly greens.

The only familiar face in the cast of unknowns is Sofia Boutella (The Mummy, Atomic Blonde) who used to be a professional dancer who toured with Madonna and Rihanna before starting in movies as the knife-legged chick in Kingsman: The Secret Service. While not really the lead, she gets slightly more screentime, but is limited to mostly screaming, flailing about, and screaming some more. What a waste of an exotic beauty.

I watched this on Amazon Prime Video in four or five chunks over a couple of weeks, despite being only 90 minutes long, because there was so little point to any of it, but I still wanted to see where the heck this mess was going, which ultimately turned out to be in circles and nowhere. Even as an experimental film, it's still a self-indulgent mess. 

Score: 2/10. Skip it.


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