French provoc-auteur Gaspar Noe’s films have often been labelled ‘more style than substance’. While this wasn’t the case with earlier works like 2002’s controversial Irreversible (a challenging film that explored time and fate through a violent revenge story), it’s fair to say Noe has become more interested in camera movements than characters. 2009’s Enter the Void was one of the most visually astonishing films of all time, yet its story and characters were paper thin. 2015’s Love was mostly an excuse to depict as much gratuitous sex and nudity on-screen as possible. Sadly, Climax is not a return to form for Noe. Depicting a group of dancers as they accidentally ingest LSD and have a mass freak out, Climax is yet another beautifully filmed bore.
Opening with the final scene and rolling credits, Climax takes us back to witness a group of young dancers being interviewed about their attitudes and hopes. No sooner have we been introduced to the large cast of interchangeable faces then we are whisked to an abandoned school for a mass dance rehearsal. The early dance scenes are among the best in the film, with Noe finding innovative ways to frame the hypnotic, frenzied moves of his cast. Acting possessed even before they unwittingly drink hallucinogens, the young cast of non-actors are impressively loose and wild, performing elaborate routines in long unbroken takes.
Unfortunately, once the dancing stops, we are left with a group of dull characters mostly chatting about drugs, sex and alcohol. It’s like being the only sober attendee at a party you aren’t permitted to leave, and no amount of flashy editing and frenzied camera moves can make up for the lack of interest. When the dancers are spiked and things go to hell, Noe again proves he’s a masterful visual director, capturing the chaos of fighting, fucking and dancing in an increasingly wild unbroken take. Without an emotional centre or intriguing narrative however, there’s precious little to invest in, while the craziness pales in comparison to similar rollercoaster rides to hell like Darren Aronofsky’s underrated mother!.
For fans of aggressive arthouse cinema, Gaspar Noe will always have something to offer, but he’s been employing the same freewheeling camera moves, long takes, and experimental editing for nearly two decades now. Lacking the challenging ideas of Irreversible or the visual astonishment of Enter the Void, Climax fails to incite much in the way of excitement or emotion. The dance routines are fun and the final 45 minutes occasionally provides a memorable image, but Climax really is style over substance, and it’s not even Noe’s most stylish film.
By Harry J. Ford
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