Reception of Climax: A Gasping Yes for Gaspar Noe
Gaspar Noe‘s latest feature film once again left audiences with their jaws on the floor and gasping for air after an hour and a half of psychedelic cinematic defiance. While this is one of Noe’s least controversial works, American reception of Climax has made the case that this acid trip of a movie is some of the director’s best work.
It is rare to find a film whose reviews, both positive and negative, can all find agreement around one word: hell. Allegedly based on a true story, Climax follows a hip hop dance troupe who gathers in an empty and remote school building to hold a three day rehearsal. In a romping after party, joy fades to chaos as the characters discover the sangria they’ve been consuming without restraint has been laced with LSD. What follows is a psychedelic sensory overload for both the characters and the audience as delirium and the music take over the night. Sleazy paradise becomes an anarchic nightmare, all to the beat of Daft Punk.
Those who know Gaspar Noe will find Climax laced with Noe’s signatures motifs, from the unsettling thudding soundtrack to the baths of red lighting and cartwheeling camerawork. The clashing of genres–a horror mystery musical–blurs the joys of life with the terrors, giving the movie a few uncharacteristic twists not so easily found in the director’s oeuvre.
First, as Noe claims, there is a happy element to the story. While the story keeps the signature controversial and horrific opening, the first actual scene is a dance party, a celebration. For a brief time–but no more than five minutes–audiences can relax their shoulders and enjoy a stunning cinematic dance sequence. This is Noe’s first film working with dancers and according to the director himself, this is an unusual film due to its « no penis » factor, which may be why A24 bought the US rights to the film and it was anticipated to have some of the greatest American success of any Noe production.
Winner of the Director’s Fortnight’s most coveted prize, the Art Cinema Award, reception for Climax has been largely positive. Many critics are calling the film the director’s greatest work; still, it wouldn’t be a Noe film if there wasn’t a colony of critics waiting to condemn the controversy. One of the reasons the movie has attained such positive reviews is that it does not deliver the same shocks as Noe’s previous films. From the artist who has filmed a horse butchering in a slaughterhouse, used footage of a live birth, filmed while using cocaine, masturbated in his own movie, created a 3-D erotic drama with all the fluids you never wanted to see in 3-D, and directed a wildly controversial 8-minute rape scene in Irreversible, a drugged dance party has little shock factor left to give fans. Some have called it dull and pointed out the irony of the name Climax because, to many, there isn’t one.
While as a subject Climax is a matter of taste, as an object it is stunning. The opening dance sequence is taken as one continuous shot of sweeping camerawork and is, in fact, the only choreographed dance in the entire film. For the rest of the dances, the professional dancers were instructed to express themselves as they saw fit. The technical aspects of the film reflect the manic with camerawork that melts down with the characters until gliding sweeps become choppy shots strategically swirling around the madness.
To further juxtapose the expected, Noe takes the chronology of the story and of the movie and shuffles it into the chaos. The end credits appear within the first 15 minutes of the film, with the opening credits appearing around halfway through and the title refusing to make an appearance until the film’s finale. According to Noe, the film is split into two parts–the « roller coaster » and the « ghost train »–and the credits are used to create this separation.
At the end of the day, there’s no better review than the movie posters themselves: « You despised I Stand Alone. You hated Irreversible. You despised Enter the Void. You cursed Love. Now try Climax. »
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