French provocateur Gaspar Noé has made a name in making hard to watch cinema. This can come from his nauseating camera style that often twirls around in a drunken fashion. More often though, his dare to watch brand of filmmaking feature content that few other filmmakers will explore. At times this has felt a bit like a gimmick, but in his new film Climax, Noé has made his first film with a clear point to it other than to shock or disturb.
That isn't to say that Climax won't shock or disturb audiences, it likely will. The film follows a dance troupe led by Selva (Sofia Boutella) who are rehearsing one night when they decide to throw a party and someone doses the sangria with LSD. The opening moments of the film feature candid interviews, shown on an old tube TV next to a stack of influences on Noé. This preface helps to introduce each dancer but also to set the stage for what ends up being a critique of French art and artists as well as society at large. From there, the film moves into its first dance sequence. It is a breathtaking and vibrant scene that showcases humans at their best and most physically focused. Then the acid kicks in and we see humanity, represented in the troupe, crumble and devolve into animals.
Climax is easily Noé's most accessible film which is saying something for a film that features graphic violence including a pregnant woman being beaten up. The accessibility comes from the director's clear focus on themes. "Life is a collective impossibility" and "Death is an extraordinary experience are blasted across the screen at times. Noé also takes a moment to name every great French artist in his eyes, including himself. Climax has a pulsing life to it as it shows the fine line between utopia and dystopia.
The visual orgy of bodies, blood, sex, and dance may not be for everyone here but one cannot deny how meticulously crafted Climax is. The characters may be more symbolic but each non-actor here finds a distinct voice, making them feel like real people even when reality slips away. Climax will leave you exhausted but also thrilled if you go along for this descent into hell.