Climax sees the return of cinema’s greatest self-proclaimed enfant terrible, Gaspar Noé, following the oddly un-sexy 3D extravaganza that was 2015’s Love. It’s his best reviewed film, perhaps ever, which Noé is likely fuming about. The poster brandishes the most ridiculous quote I think I’ve ever read: “It’s Fame, directed by the Marquis de Sade with a Steadicam.” So, that’s the territory we’re in here.
The film opens with a stunning shot of a blood-covered young woman, crawling through the freshly-laid snow, screaming her head off. It then quickly transitions, with a jolt, into a sequence of increasingly dull to-camera interviews with prospective dancers, presented on a fuzzy, old television, surrounded by piles of strategically-chosen VHS tapes — Suspiria, Possession, etc.
It’s a dumb choice, but at least it gives us something to look at while these interviews go on FOREVER. Why even present it like this? What does it add? Sure, it gives snooty critics such as myself the perfect comparisons to make for this movie (Noé wishes), but otherwise it’s just a badly shot and performed (most of the dialogue is improvised) introduction that grinds the story to a complete halt before it’s even really begun.
The sequence that follows, the lengthy, bravura dance sequence hinted at in the film’s trailer, is sadly the standout of the entire thing (but I’m still thankful it came next). Sexy, exciting, and hugely impressive, it sees a group of dancers including Sofia Boutella (the only actor in the bunch, who hadn’t danced for five years prior to this), in a variety of skin-baring outfits, writhing around, and performing awe-inspiring, body-twisting movements together.
Unfortunately, it, too, overstays its welcome, particularly considering the mind-numbingly repetitive song to which it’s performed — so brilliant in that trailer — really starts to grate after a couple of minutes. The music is a massive part of Climax, a collection of strategically-chosen hits of which Noé himself is hugely proud, but it doesn’t make any impact apart from here, in this initial sequence.
The movie then segues back into talking. Again, it’s mostly improvised and, again, you can tell. The dialogue scenes are shot head-on so there’s nothing to do but look at and listen to these awful people, a couple of whom discuss anally penetrating women without lubricant, or without notifying them first, because it feels better. Charming. Again, the point here is what exactly?
The problem is, when the characters are talking, you’re dying for them to dance. When they’re dancing, you’re dying for them to take a breather for a second to give your headache a chance to subside. Climax looks like it was shot in a church hall (it was, funnily enough). It’s boring to both watch and listen to, which means there’s a lot of pressure on the dialogue and dance to be really outstanding.
The dancing is considerably better than the talking, at least, but even it eventually has to give way to the meaningless, incoherent orgy of drugs and violence this could only ever turn into (the story hinges on punch being spiked with acid). Every performer melodramatically acts out, but only Boutella can actually act, and the focus isn’t on her nearly enough to withstand the other mind-numbing elements.
Climax certainly isn’t subtle — someone draws a swastika on another dancer’s head at one point, with red lipstick, while elsewhere a pregnant woman is encouraged to kill herself, and there’s also an incest subplot that goes nowhere — but there is space for it to be more than what it is. Plainly, it’s the worst party I’ve ever been to in my life, full of horrible, pretentious people talking lots but saying nothing.
The Vice Films logo right off the top almost seems like an in-joke, likewise Noé’s decision to feature his own name approximately seventy times. The only real moment of self-reflection is the “French film and proud of it” note at the beginning. Otherwise, this is just thoughtless, pretentious, try-hard garbage. There’s a whole sequence shot upside down just because (it, too, goes on for much too long).
There will be those who argue that Climax is an art film, and that those who didn’t enjoy it don’t “get” it. Maybe, as certain commentators have suggested, it’s meant to make us yearn for the end. That’s the point. You watch it and want to die (fun!). Certainly, I am in the minority in my resistance to it, but there’s a difference between a filmmaker trying to do something different — to make the audience uncomfortable even — and this wholly predictable, boring, self-indulgent twaddle.
It’s empty excess for the sake of it. Noé has absolutely nothing to say or show us.Most egregiously, the thing ends with a whimper, rather than a bang. Unless, of course, you count the headache sustained by sitting through it.
WICKED RATING: 3/10
Director(s): Gaspar Noé
Writer(s): Gaspar Noé
Stars: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souhelia Yacoub, Kiddy Smile
Release date: (TBC)
Studio/ Production Co: Arte France Cinéma
Length: 95 minutes