Gaspar Noé Retrospective: ‘Climax’

Gaspar Noé’s Climax is a masterclass in the effectiveness of immersive storytelling.

CREDIT: Les Cinémas de la Zone

In 2018, the world was introduced to the newest film from Gaspar Noé, Climax. Every day I carry with me the regret of not watching it at my local cinema when I had the chance. I went on two occasions to the cinema when they were playing it. I could have called an Uber and spent the day at the cinema to catch a screening, but I was not in the best of financial situations then (even though I am still not). To this day, I have yet to experience a film from Gaspar Noé on the big screen. Well, I hope to change that soon with Vortex releasing in the United States on May 6th. I waited until the film hit video on demand, and I swear that I checked pretty much every day for a release date. I ended up purchasing the film which is something I usually never do with films I have never seen. I have said this a lot during this retrospective series but I honestly feel this way when I say that I had never seen such an immersive experience as Climax.

Climax is the sixth feature film written and directed by French Argentinian master filmmaker, Gaspar Noé. The film is made up of mostly dancers/non-professional actors except for Sofia Boutella and Souheila Yacoub. The film is notoriously known for not having a script but mostly a 3-page outline. Actors were given freedom with their characters to decide where to take their journey. The film premiered during the Director’s Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2018.

In Climax, we follow a group of French dancers who are celebrating before heading out on a tour in the United States. The film is inspired by real events that happened during the 1990s in France. Everything is going well at the party at first but as the drinks settled the dancers realize that their sangria was spiked with something. As the LSD starts the settle and the fun goes out the window, the dancers begin a descent into hell. All control is lost as the nightmare begins at the party and our dancers face the ugliness hiding in their group.

Climax is a story of jealousy, envy, and fakeness found within works of art. You would think that this group would be a cohesive unit. They are supposed to trust each other yet once the drinks and drugs settle the true colors of each person begin to show. The cinematography is a thing of beauty as it indulges in the same stylistic lighting found in his last films, but the long takes truly create the immersive experience of the film. The choreography is stellar during the two big dance numbers. Gaspar Noé once again shows his genius in choosing the right musical pieces to accompany his films. Even though this is Noé’s most accessible film to date it still finds its way to being unconventional. The creativity and originality in the approach find a way to grab the audience until it finally let’s go in the last ten minutes of the film.

Before we continue, I want to bring up an incredible film essay by JessFlix where they discuss the immersive horror of Climax. Something I noticed while discussing this film in 2019 was the ease with people saying that the film has no story. I could not disagree more, Climax’s story is one of what happens when artists build something together just to watch their faults bring it tumbling down. Of course, he will perfect this narrative when it comes to his latest film, Lux Æterna. Gaspar Noé’s films seem to concentrate more on the experience but the story is just as important within the film. Something that always fascinates me is the way that Noé is easily able to create the atmosphere of his films. In Climax, his use of long takes and obscure musical choices create an anxiety-inducing experience once we reach the second half. Gaspar Noé creates a perfect example of heaven and hell. In the first half, everyone seems to be okay with each other, of course, there are massive amounts of gossip flowing around but they all seem to participate with each other in their common love, the art of dance. Once we make it to the halfway mark at 47 minutes hell truly starts to sink in. A child is neglected and later dies because of their mother’s neglect. What is seen as an overprotective brother begins to unravel his incestuous predatory feelings towards his sister. All hell breaks loose and we are living in a nightmare created by the flaws of each of these people. What is Gaspar Noé trying to say with all this? Just as easy as it is for humans to create something they can easily destroy it. I think anyone who has ever been involved in a group effort can vouch for that. In the end, we find out who spiked the sangria but the problems within the dance group were present there way before the sangria was made. If 2001: A Space Odyssey is the ultimate trip then Climax is the ultimate nightmare.

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